Live media coverage of reform hearing unlikely

February 1, 2012

Supreme Court unlikely to allow live C-SPAN coverage of the five and half hour healthcare reform hearing, unfortunately.

"The justices do not want cameras in the courtroom permanently, and they surely do not want to establish precedent-which would inevitably be thrown back at them-by allowing it even once," Don Hall, principal of consulting firm Delta Sigma LLC, told me.

Historically, the justices have resisted live video coverage, believing it would alter the quality of the court's proceedings. In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2007 called live coverage an "insidious dynamic" that did not belong in a "collegial court."

The First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press, is another point for the court to consider.

BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT

C-SPAN-which has been lobbying the court for live TV coverage since 1988-specified in its recent request that it is not seeking a permanent presence but merely a one-time arrangement based on the extraordinary nature of the healthcare case. Further, C-SPAN insisted that the public interest would be best served by live video and that the unprecedented five-and-a-half hour hearing "begs for camera coverage."

Being a member of the media myself, of course I'm going to side with C-SPAN. As it turns out, most Americans do too. A poll by USA TODAY/Gallup in December found that 72% of the more than 1,000 adults surveyed think the justices should allow the cameras. This is a higher response than a similar poll in 2000, in which only half of the people surveyed thought so.

Congress does not have authority to make the court open its doors to cameras, although it has considered it in the past. With renewed interest in light of PPACA hearings, the Senate is again mulling over a new piece of legislation. One proposal now on the table would force the court to routinely televise arguments with few exceptions, while another proposal would allow a chief justice to decide on a case by case basis whether to allow cameras.

Televised Supreme Court hearings seem almost inevitable. Congress continues to be in favor of it but hasn't pushed the issue. The public is in favor of it but isn't actively demanding it. Oddly enough, most Americans don't even realize that the high court doesn't televise hearings.

It's significant to note that for next month's healthcare proceedings, no one is demanding that the media be allowed to trespass into the closed-door conference where the nine justices meet-alone-to discuss the case and take a vote. C-SPAN is only asking to broadcast the oral arguments presented by the legal teams-an event that is already open to the public and news reporters, albeit with limited access. It's first-come first-served, so if you're willing to camp out in line at the visitor's entrance, you might be able to get one of the 50 seats reserved for the public.

Julie Miller is editor-in-chief of MANAGED HEALTHCARE EXECUTIVE. She can be reached at julie.miller@advanstar.com