The Case for Televised Oral Arguments

By Attorney Gregg Herman
September 10, 2012

Given the low perception in which lawyers and the legal system are held by the general public, it is absurd that most trials can be televised but oral arguments before most appellate courts cannot.

Now, according to an article in the ABA Journal, it appears that Justice Elena Kagen is “having second thoughts” about televising oral arguments before the US Supreme Court.  According to the article, Justice Kagen said:

“I have a few worries, including that people might play to the camera. Sometimes you see that when you watch congressional hearings,” Kagan said. Another worry, she said, is that a clip will be used out of context.

She also commented on low public opinion poll numbers for the court and possibly misplaced perceptions that the justices are political, according to the stories and the Detroit News.”

Uh, Justice, please!  Justices are political and everyone knows it!  And with the poll numbers so low, maybe televising arguments might help — they can hardly hurt.

Having argued twice before the Wisconsin Supreme Court (which also does not allow cameras, although they are audio recorded) and listened to any number of arguments, I believe that the public’s respect for our court system would increased if oral arguments were televised.  Arguing before the court is a majestic experience, pitting the best lawyers against the best judges.

We allow cameras to show trials in our state courts where they see posturing lawyers or tidbits of salacious testimony.  Yet, we do not allow the public to see judges questioning lawyers on the law and how the law shapes society.  The proceedings are dignified, intellectual and informative.  C’mon, Justice Kagen (and the rest of the US SC – and the Wisconsin Supreme Court) – show everyone the legal system at its best.

After all, they already believe the worst.

Attorney Gregg Herman is a founding partner of Loeb & Herman S.C. in Milwaukee, WI. He practices family law exclusively, and can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 272-5632.