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Congressman Mike Quigley

Representing the 5th District of Illinois

Wall Street Journal: Cameras at Court Would Be ‘Insidious'

Mar 14, 2013
In the News

This article originally appeared on The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog on March 14, 2013. A copy of the article can be found here.

By Jess Bravin


WASHINGTON — At a House hearing Thursday focused on judicial budget issues, an Illinois congressman delicately raised with two Supreme Court justices a constant sore point in relations between Congress and the Supreme Court — their refusal to permit video transmission of their public argument sessions.

Democrat Mike Quigley, a criminal defense attorney before his election to the House, suggested that the public would learn about the judicial branch if all Americans, rather than those able to wait in line to get into the court in Washington, could witness its sessions.

“We are a teaching institution,” Justice Anthony Kennedy conceded at a hearing streamed over the Internet. But “we teach by not having television there,”  so that the public focuses on the court’s written opinions rather than its personalities, he said.

Justice Kennedy said he feared that if cameras were present, the suspicion might arise that his colleagues were playing to the cameras. “I just don’t want that insidious dynamic [to] intervene between me and my colleagues,” he said.

Mr. Quigley said he was astonished at the suggestion that a Supreme Court justice would be bothered by something so superficial.

 “Justice, I’ve seen a lot of theatrics in courtrooms, and some of it begat, I suppose, from TV cameras, or an attorney advertising,” he said. “And in all my life, I can’t imagine the Supreme Court acting in a way other than that which they normally would, whether there’s cameras there or not.” 

Justice Stephen Breyer, known for elaborate and sometimes implausible hypothetical questions, replied in a somewhat confessional way.

“I don’t care if I look a little bit stupid in the newspaper,” he said, noting that the print press is always present at oral argument.  Should a justice find himself lampooned on an evening television show, “the next day you’ll watch a lot more carefully what you say,” Justice Breyer said.

Mr. Quigley wasn’t persuaded. He said he wished film was available of arguments in seminal cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, which in 1954 held school segregation unconstitutional, and Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 decision requiring free counsel for indigent criminal defendants.

The court continues to make history, he said, and “I’d like my kids to be able to watch it.”