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Alaska editorial: Let us see

Posted: December 16, 2011 - 1:03am

This editorial originally appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

We — all of us — should be able to watch the U.S. Supreme Court in action, and legislation has been introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow it.

Fifty out of 307 million Americans can — if they get in line a day or two in advance of a particular case being argued before the justices. That leaves 306,999,950 Americans out in the cold.

It isn’t all warm and cozy for the 50, either. They get to stand in line outside court for from 24 to 48 hours in hopes of a chance to see and hear the arguments.

Hardly makes the public feel welcome.

And, while we’re shivering or sweltering in our boots or sandals, depending on the season, the court is deciding how our laws are to be interpreted.

Of particular current importance is the health care reform case coming before the court in the spring. The outcome will be whether Americans can be forced to buy health care insurance. It seems like we might not only be interested in hearing and seeing the arguments on both sides of the issue, but that we should be interested. And what a tremendous opportunity to learn about how our justice system conducts itself; schools and teachers should be preparing lesson plans around viewing the proceedings.

The arguments should be broadcast across the nation by C-Span. Alaska’s Supreme Court allows TV cameras to broadcast arguments. Rules for camera behavior are set ahead of time, recognizing that it is important that the cameras and their operators don’t disturb the proceedings. If Alaska can come up with rules to give all Alaskans access to the highest court in The Last Frontier, then the U.S. Supreme Court — also experts in laws — should be able to do the same for the highest court in the land.

Apparently, the U.S. justices fear sound bites being taken out of context. But print reporters take text equivalent to sound bites (quotes) all of the time. They do it responsibly. We believe TV can act accordingly. A transcript or recording of the arguments will be available to set the record straight, if necessary.

And C-Span would show the proceedings in their entirety for the most interested Americans.

While the court distributes an audio recording of its proceedings a few days after an argument, that isn’t likely to reach the ears of most Americans. It certainly doesn’t allow them to get to know the justices and other courtroom participants.

In the interest of open government, it’s time for the justices to let us see with our own eyes what is going on in our highest court.

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