Politico: At sequestration hearing, Breyer, Kennedy say cameras in the courtroom too risky
This article originally appeared on Politico's Under the Radar Blog on March 14, 2013. A copy of the article can be found here.
By Tal Kopan
Given with the rare opportunity to question Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy, some members of a House Appropriations subcommittee asked about their pet issues during a sequestration hearing Thursday.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) took his time during the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing to question the justices on why the Supreme Court opposes the introduction of cameras in that court.
"We are a teaching institution, and we teach by not having the television there, because we teach that we are judged by what we write, the reasons that we give, Kennedy said, saying he believed the majority of his colleagues felt the same way.
He and Breyer both expressed concern that cameras present during oral arguments would fundamentally change the way justices operate.
"We feel, number one, that our institution works. And in my own view, there would be considerable reluctance where I would have the instinct that one of my colleagues asked a question because were on television. I just don't want that insidious dynamic to come between me and my colleagues, Kennedy said.
"In all my life, I can't imagine the Supreme Court acting in a way other than they normally would, whether there were cameras or not, but I respect your point, Quigley said.
Breyer said that while he very much likes the idea of a camera for certain oral arguments -- turning to Kennedy and asking if he remembers the Arkansas case on term limits (presumably U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton) and how excellent arguments were in that "difficult case --, he is at this moment against bringing in cameras.
"We're a very conservative institution ¦ and the last thing any of us would like to do is to make it worse as an institution, Breyer said. "People who you would find surprising, I won't say who they are, they come to me and they say, ˜Be careful, you think it won't affect your questions. ¦ If you see on television a person taking a picture of you and really mischaracterizing [what you say], ¦ the first time you see that, the next day you'll watch a lot more carefully what you say. Now that's what's worrying me.
Breyer said he wants to see more studies of the impact of courtroom cameras ("not paid for by the press), for example in California and really analyze the issue before he would feel ready to allow them in.
The off-topic exchange aside, the justices and subcommittee addressed the impact of sequestration on the courts, a topic Kennedy called "serious business.
In his opening statements, Kennedy said the courts are already operating frugally on a minimal budget, which accounts for just 0.2 percent of the total federal budget.
"Please consider the 0.2 percent of the federal budget for the entire third branch of the federal government is more than reasonable. What's at stake here is the efficiency of the courts, and they are ¦ not only part of the constitutional structure, they are part of the economic structure of the country, Kennedy said.
He and Breyer emphasized that the courts oversee hundreds of thousands of criminal offenders and also supply public defenders for those who can't provide their own defense “ a critically important part of the justice system. If funding were to be cut, they said, the consequences could end up costing the country more in the long run, both in terms of dollars and carriage of justice.
Kennedy also said a long-term budget reduction could be unconstitutional.
"If it's for any long term, it will be inconsistent with the constitutional obligation of the Congress to fund the courts, Kennedy said. "We don't control our workload. Cases come to us, we don't go looking for cases. The court considers some 9,000 petitions for certiorari in a year, Kennedy said. "We can't say arbitrarily, we're only going to consider 6,000 and let the others go by the wayside.
In another diversion from the budget topic, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, also popped into the hearing to express her hope that the justices declare the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, an issue that will come before the court March 27.
While she said she wouldn't ask the justices their view on the topic, and wouldn't expect them to answer anyway, she read former President Bill Clinton's recent statement expressing his changed opinion on the act, and said like Clinton (who signed the act into law) her own opinions on the issue had changed, as had many of her colleagues and the public.
"I ask you just to consider my words, Lowey said.