The Supreme Court will stick with tradition and bar cameras from the courtroom this month, turning down requests that it televise oral arguments on the constitutionality of the nation’s health-care overhaul, the court said Friday.
The court will release same-day audio recordings of the arguments, which are scheduled to last six hours over three days, March 26 to 28. That process would be similar to what it has done in high-profile cases such as Bush v. Gore in 2000.
In a statement, the court did not address the requests from news organizations and members of Congress to televise the arguments. Instead, it simply announced the audio recordings.
“Because of the extraordinary public interest in those cases, the Court will provide the audio recordings and transcripts of the oral arguments on an expedited basis through the Court’s Website,” the statement said.
The court has never allowed cameras in its courtroom or live broadcasts of its proceedings. The Senate Judiciary Committee last month approved a bill that called for televising the Supreme Court’s arguments. But the legislation faces an uncertain future, in part because of separation-of-powers concerns about whether one branch of the government can dictate how another conducts business.
Friday’s decision includes a bit of compromise from the court, speeding its normal procedure for releasing audio recordings. Currently, the court releases the audio Fridays during the weeks the court hears oral arguments. Arguments in those weeks are held Monday through Wednesday.
For health care, the court said, it would make each day’s proceedings available the day the argument occurs.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said the court’s action was a “step forward” but incomplete.
“I continue to support live audio streaming and permitting cameras in our nation’s courtrooms, including in the Supreme Court, so that Americans can witness these public proceedings as they happen,” Leahy said in a statement.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the committee’s ranking Republican, said he was disappointed.
“Every American should have the opportunity to see and hear this landmark case as it plays out, not just the select few allowed in the courtroom,” he said in a statement.
The Washington Post and other news organizations joined a request by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for the arguments to be televised.
In a letter to lawmakers and others who requested the broadcasts, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. did not expand on the court’s statement or offer its reasoning.
In the past, justices have provided several reasons for not televising oral arguments. Some have worried that the presence of cameras would alter the serious nature of the court’s deliberations and that television clips of proceedings might be taken out of context.
The court’s newest justice, Elena Kagan, has said she would favor broadcast of the arguments.
The court’s statement said audio recordings and unofficial transcripts of the health-care arguments would be posted on its Web site within hours of their completion.