06
Nov
10

Cameras in the Supreme Court

Shortly after retiring from the Supreme Court, former Justice David Souter lamented widespread ignorance of basic civics, noting that some two-thirds of Americans can’t even name all three branches of government. It would probably not surprise him to learn that only one percent of Americans can name every Justice on the Court, according to a June 2010 survey by findlaw.com, and only a mere 35 percent can name even one sitting Justice. Americans are not exactly unaware of the power exercised by the Supreme Court; but the anger of partisans on one side or other at rulings that challenge or violate their core beliefs is often unmitigated by actual knowledge about separation of powers and the Court’s role in protecting individual rights.

You might expect this ignorance to concern the Justices, as it concerned David Souter, but even he strongly opposed one effort to educate the public about the workings of the Court–a proposal to televise its proceedings. As Souter famously remarked, cameras entering the court would have to “roll over my dead body.”

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