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Eye On The Supreme Court

Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Poe) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Rep. Ted Poe

legislator photo

Madam Speaker, last week hundreds of citizens stood in the first snow of winter in Washington, D.C. for 2 hours, hoping to get a coveted seat in the United States Supreme Court building to see the oral arguments on the case of the detainees in Guantanamo prisoner of war camp and what rights, if any, they have under our Constitution; however, the Supreme Court gallery has a mere 50 seats for spectators.

One of those would-be viewers was a lawyer on my staff, Gina Santucci. I wanted her there to find out more about the case and take notes. But she, like most of the people in line, never got in to see the arguments. There was no room in the room. Those that were allowed into the proceedings were only permitted to stay 5 minutes before they had to leave and make room for other people in the room.

Public interest in what takes place in the Supreme Court is a good thing. It is important that Americans are concerned about what occurs in the Supreme Court, and citizens want to observe the most powerful court in action anywhere in the world. But most Americans will never have this opportunity to see the questions asked by the Justices of the Supreme Court or to hear the arguments over the meaning of our Constitution or hear constitutional cases that will go down in history.

Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 1299 to allow television cameras to televise Supreme Court proceedings. Since then, both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committees have heard arguments as to why cameras should be allowed inside the Supreme Court.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up Senator Specter's bill to allow cameras in the Supreme Court. Some Senators were concerned that the Department of Justice opposed this bill. Justice Department opposed this bill because they say they want to protect the ``collegial environment'' of the Court. I don't mean to intrude on what a ``collegial environment'' is, but what is it?

I thought the business before the Supreme Court is a matter the American people have an interest in, not just the college of lawyers that appear before the court.

We have cameras in these House Chambers, and I never thought about whether the camera here on the House floor affects the collegiality between the fellow representatives that we work with. Most of us hardly notice the camera at all. And today's cameras are so small and unobtrusive, they are not noticed. They don't affect our daily routine here in the House, but they allow Americans across the vastness of the fruited plain to tune in to see what their government is up to every day.

Now, I doubt if the Supreme Court TV channel will win the fall sweeps, but it will allow Americans who live in the 50 States to observe the oral arguments that take place. Some say they are against cameras in the courtroom because attorneys play to the camera and try to impress the viewing audience.

Madam Speaker, attorneys don't play to the camera, they play to the jury. I know because I played to the jury for 8 years as a prosecutor in Texas. However, there isn't even a jury to impress in the Supreme Court. In fact, there really isn't a time to grandstand in the Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the Supreme Court involve the best appellate attorneys in the country, facing a spew of questions from nine Justices who are asking a barrage of legal questions to these lawyers making them justify their legal positions on their case.

I only explain how the oral arguments work in the Supreme Court because most Americans are unaware of the proceedings and the procedures since they don't have the opportunity to view Supreme Court oral arguments personally. Unless there are cameras, Americans will never have the chance to see what takes place in a courtroom, the most powerful courtroom in the whole world, the Supreme Court courtroom.

I know cameras can be placed in a courtroom without disruption or distraction because I did it. For 22 years, I served as a felony court judge in Houston, Texas. I heard over 25,000 criminal cases and a thousand jury trials. Some of those were filmed by the TV media. I even televised a capital murder trial. My rules were simple and always obeyed by the media: No filming of rape victims, children, the jury, or certain other witnesses. The camera filmed what the jury saw and heard. And, Madam Speaker, I had no problem with the media at all. We need to let the public see a real trial in progress, and cameras have made that possible.

Americans have the right to watch Supreme Court proceedings in person. We have the best judicial system ever created in the history of the world. Why not prove it by filming these proceedings? Americans should not be deprived of the right to observe just because they cannot physically sit in the Supreme Court courtroom. It is time to remove the veil of secrecy from the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court and allow cameras to film these important proceedings.

Justice would be better served if we open the doors to the Supreme Court to cameras because justice is the one thing we should always find.

And that's just the way it is.