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Can Congress Mandate Court Cameras?

We recently mentioned the Michigan Law Review's symposium on the risks and benefits of cameras in the courts. Commenting on the symposium in a post Monday at SCOTUSBlog, University of Minnesota law professor David Stras questioned whether Congress has the constitutional authority to force the Supreme Court to allow cameras. He wrote:

"[T]he Supreme Court stated as early as United States v. Hudson and Goodwin (the famous case that articulated the doctrine of legality in criminal law) that certain powers inhere in a court. The most recognizable of these powers are contempt, administration of the bar, and docket management. There are others, but a dominant theme emerges: the Court must be able to, in the words of Hudson, '[e]nforce the observance of order.'"

It would not be a "huge stretch" for the court to say that regulation of cameras within its walls "falls within that 'core' of judicial power that is not defeasible by statute," Stras wrote.

Now Lyle Denniston, also writing at SCOTUSBlog, finds further support for the proposition "that inter-branch modesty remains a virtue -- that is, there is a public good in avoiding meddling in another branch's inner workings." That support comes from a case that considers the issue in mirror image. Ruling this week in Public Citizen v. U.S. District Court, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found, in essence, that the federal courts should not interfere with "the internal governance of Congress." At issue was whether a bill, once attested as enrolled by the leaders of both the House and the Senate, could be challenged because of clerk's error had the House vote on a slightly different version than the Senate. Relying on Supreme Court precedent from 1892, the D.C. Circuit said no.

In the circuit court's language about the need for the judiciary to abstain from questioning procedures adopted by Congress, Denniston sees parallels to the current Senate campaign to mandate cameras in the courts. "It is absolutely clear that the Justices ... have concluded that the question of televising oral arguments is decidedly a matter of 'the inner workings' of the Court," Denniston writes. But whether Sen. Arlen Specter, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, would defer to that judgment "is another question." In the end, Denniston says, the debate may turn not on constitutional authority but on "civic manners."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 31, 2007 at 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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