The Washington Post

Americans want Supreme Court arguments televised

The Supreme Court will hear arguments today on the health reform law, but the general public will have to settle for audio recordings and color sketches. Americans aren’t thrilled about the arrangement, and appear to have turned sharply against the practice in the past decade.

The public was hardly as unified 12 years ago, in the wake of the court’s high profile Bush v. Gore decision surrounding the 2000 presidential election. Half the public (50 percent) said the Supreme Court should allow cameras in a Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll at the time, while 48 percent said they should not. Barely four in 10 Republicans (42 percent) supported televising hearings in late 2000, but that spiked to 77 percent in 2011, a 35-point jump. Republicans now slightly outpace Democrats in their support for cameras in the courtroom.

For the current case, the Supreme Court changed its rules and will release audiotape and transcripts of the arguments each day, though cameras will still be forbidden.

Gallup’s question wording differed between 2000 and 2011, with the latest survey asking specifically about hearings on “President Obama’s health care law.” It was also conducted on a single day, which is rare for most surveys of political issues. But a 2006 Fox News poll also found wide support for televised hearings. More than six in 10 voters in that poll said televising Supreme Court sessions was a good idea, including similar numbers of Democrats and Republicans.

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Scott Clement is a survey research analyst for The Washington Post. Scott specializes in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.


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