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Justices willing to be heard but still unwilling to be seen in court

October 6, 2010 | 11:19 am

Unaware that video killed the radio stars, the Supreme Court has announced that it will make available, relatively promptly, audio recordings of its oral arguments. Any additional transparency is welcome, but the new policy of posting the audio on the court’s website every Friday begs the question: Why are the justices willing to be heard but not seen?

It couldn’t be that they refuse to show their faces for fear of a terrorist attack (an explanation once floated by Justice Clarence Thomas). They have no problem appearing in public -- and on TV -- when they are plugging their books. An  alternative argument is that televising arguments might lead to the broadcast of out-of-context sound bites. But the same danger exists with audio quotations, and TV news directors can always air misleading quotes over an artist’s rendering of the justice asking the question.

The only remaining argument against cameras is that the court, like Mount Olympus, should be beyond the gaze of mere mortals. It’s time the justices came down to Earth -- or at least C-SPAN.

-- Michael McGough

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