Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart favors opening oral argument in the court to television coverage, The Washington Post has learned.
He is believed to be the first of the eight associate justices to take this position. Chief Warren E. Burger is bitterly opposed.
Stewart expressed his view last month in response to a question raised at an informal meeting at the court with a group of Kiplinger Graduate Fellows from the Ohio State University School of Journalism.
The justice has confirmed the accuracy of remarks attributed to him by a source who was at the meeting.
According to the source, Stewart said that television of argument in the court - now restricted to the relative handful of lawyers, reporters and spectators admitted into its chamber - is "probably going to come and be a good thing in the long run."
He also said he did not know if a majority of the court shared his view, adding that none of the justices was inclined to make a crusade out of it, and nothing that Burger was "unalterably opposed."
The source said the questioner inquired whether it would be a service to the public to be able, via TV, to hear for itself arguments made by opposing parties in cases of major interest, such as capital punishment, abortion, and that of Allan Bakke, the applicant for admission to medical school rejected by the University of California at Davis.
Stewart replied that it might be a useful service, the source said. He has been on the court 19 years and ranks second in seniority among the associate justices.
In recent months, those publicly endorsing opening up argument in the Supreme Court and the federal appeals courts to television have included William Spann Jr., president of the America Bar Association, and Benjamin R. Civiletti, deputy attorney general.
Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, former judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, endorsed open-pening up the appellate courts, but did not take a stand on the Supreme Court.
Burger reemphasized his opposition to TV coverage in the high court in his annual interview with editors of U.S. News & World Report late last year.
Exercising a privilege the news magazine gives to all persons who agree to do a "Q and A" interview, Burger was reported to have deleted from the transcript accusations that the TV networks are "sleazy," that some of the justices would show off before the cameras, and that not until after "my funeral" world there be TV coverage of oral argument in the Supreme Court.