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Bill Would Televise Supreme Court Hearings

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Two Senators want to make the upcoming Supreme Court term must-see TV.

As the nation’s highest court prepares to hear high-profile cases on topics such as the health care law, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced a bill to allow public Supreme Court proceedings to be televised.

The Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts is scheduled to hold a hearing on the measure Tuesday. Grassley is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Former Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), a longtime advocate for televised court proceedings, is slated to testify.

The bill would require television coverage of all open sessions of the court, unless it decides, by a vote of the majority of justices, that doing so would constitute a violation of the due process rights of one or more of the parties before the court.

Among the cases the court will take up this term is a challenge regarding the constitutionality of the health care reform law’s federal mandate to purchase health insurance. Another case will decide whether the government needs a search warrant before placing a GPS device on a car and tracking the car’s movements for a month, and another case explores whether the Federal Communications Commission’s censorship of “indecent” speech on broadcast radio and television is unconstitutional.

“For too long the American public has been prevented from observing open sessions of the Supreme Court,” Durbin said. “As the final arbiter of constitutionality, the Supreme Court decides the most pressing and often most controversial issues of our time. In a democratic society that values transparency and participation, there can be no valid justification for such a powerful element of government to operate largely outside the view of the American people.”

“Nine Justices have a tremendous amount of influence on the lives of the people of this country, yet people know very little about the highest court in our country,” Grassley said in a statement. “In fact, next year, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about a law that has the potential to impact every American. Allowing cameras in the Supreme Court will help bring much needed transparency to a process that is largely unknown to the American public.”

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