WASHINGTON — Two Supreme Court justices said this week that cameras are fine in the House and Senate — but not at the high court. Lawmakers are considering proposals intended to put justices' sessions on television for the first time.
Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas provided the first reaction since the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a plan last week. A House bill is pending.
"It runs the risk of undermining the manner in which we consider the cases," Thomas told a House Appropriations panel that was meeting to consider the Supreme Court's budget request. "Certainly it will change our proceedings. And I don't think for the better."
The April 4 meeting was being aired live on C-SPAN, and the room was packed with television cameras and still photographers — as well as reporters using tape recorders and laptop computers, something also banned in the high court.
Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., said he did not think Congress should mandate cameras in the Court, but he told the justices, "You might get called to be a little bit tone deaf on the question if you don't move somewhere toward some openness and transparency."
Kennedy made clear that he thought the camera decision was the Court's business — not that of Congress.
"We've always taken the position and decided cases that it's not for the Court to tell the Congress how to conduct its proceedings," Kennedy said. "We feel very strongly that this matter should be left to the courts."
Kennedy added, "We have a dynamic that's different than yours: not better, not worse, but different."
Under the Senate plan, television coverage would be allowed of sessions unless a majority of the justices decide that coverage in a case would violate the due-process rights of the litigants.
Thomas said there was a potential conflict if the legislative branch tried to impose its rules on the judicial branch.
On other issues:
- The justices presented a request for about $63 million for the next fiscal year, with more money for salaries, library books and five new positions. They also sought an extra $13 million for the Court's building.
- Kennedy said he did not believe justices were compromising their impartiality by taking free trips, mainly to speak at law schools and to legal groups. He said justices do not talk about pending cases. They file details of travel on their yearly financial statements, he said.
- Thomas said justices often deal with threats, in response to a question about an Internet death threat recently revealed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "It goes with the turf," Thomas said.
- Kennedy said retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had received permission from the chief justice to keep an office in the Supreme Court, although a nearby federal building was designed to house offices of up to three retired justices.
- Kennedy said low judge pay "threatens the quality of our judiciary" and has demoralized federal judges.