Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Supreme Court TV Launches Live in the United Kingdom: Brazil's Federal Supreme Tribunal is a Model for Courts while America Falls Behind

Live TV coverage of the UK Supreme Court has launched in the United Kingdom this week according to a report by Suzi Ring at Legalweek.

Live coverage of the UK Supreme Court is now found at Sky.com.

In an additional report by Suzi Ring at Legalweek, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger is cited in suppport of televised courts, referring, for example to the Federal Supreme Tribunal in Brazil (Supremo Tribunal Federal), which even has its own TV channel, TV Justi├ža, started in the year 2002 (!), which has: "live broadcasting of judgments in the Supreme Federal Court and the Superior Court of Justice, but there are also news, debates, movies and dictatic programmes included in its schedule".

That is modernity!

By contrast, in the USA, live coverage of oral arguments has been resisted strongly by United States Supreme Court Justices -- see e.g. the Joan Biskupic report at USA Today in Justice pleads with Senate: No cameras in high court -- based on reasoning which may have made sense some years ago, but which is increasingly at odds with the increasing openness of the modern world.

In fact, U.S. Supreme Court Justices, who allegedly are "concerned" that TV broadcast exposure might affect the impartiality of proceedings over which they preside, can incongruously be found enjoying their modern "celebrity" status touring the country for speeches and other engagements or even engaging in what appear to be blatant partisan "off-court" activities.

Besides, the "political" make-up of the court is clear to everyone. Logical consistency here is therefore essential. You can't purport to raise impartiality as an excuse for avoiding TV coverage of your work while at the same time engaging in clearly partial behavior in other spheres of action.

It appears to an impartial observer that the Supremes just don't want anyone poking a TV camera into what they are doing on a daily basis, that is all. One could, for example, otherwise watch Justice Thomas apparently sleeping through the proceedings and never asking a question during oral arguments (but would he ask a question if his paycheck failed to come through?). His idea that he is "doing his job" simply by writing opinions or participating in decision-making shows he does not understand his job. If you want to be a "Supreme", you have to play the part, and being a role model is included. If you can't hack that, you should not be on the bench. A Supreme Court Justice who is a "know-it-all" and is so grounded in his political bias that he needs ask no questions, is not a role model for anyone.

On the whole, the U.S. Supreme Court continues to disappoint this observer in the exercise of its supervisory authority over the judicial system, where it could be doing far more to make the courts more relevant and more understandable to the citizenry, who have little idea of what the Justices do.

Indeed, even many practicing lawyers have surely NEVER read even one transcript of a U.S. Supreme Court oral argument, much less seen the Court in action.

In fact, one could ask whether transcripts of oral arguments are ever used in law school curriculums to show that ultimate precedents are seldom cut and dried but have two sides or more? Is Justice Thomas right that oral arguments are irrelevant to his "exercise" of his job? Why ask questions at all? Our answer there might be that Justice Thomas's opinions read like those of a man who never asks them.

In any case, as in many contemporary issues of law and economics, the USA continues to perplex this observer by following outdated policies from another era, rather than being at the vanguard of new developments in the present world, in which the courts are judging. We are no longer in 1776.

This reluctance to move forward, also in the judicial sphere, is symptomatic of America's current malaise.

A nation which is recalcitrant in progressively moving forward to match the march of progress is scarcely a world leader worthy of emulation. Rather, such a nation is a candidate for nostalgic reminiscences of a world that once was.

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