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Supreme Court on TV? Senate panel advances bill requiring cameras in high court.

The Senate committee's vote comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear five and a half hours of argument in March in a challenge to President Obama’s health-care reform law. 

By Staff writer / February 9, 2012

The Supreme Court Building is seen in Washington, last month.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11 to 7 on Thursday in support of a bill that would require live video broadcasts of arguments at the US Supreme Court.

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The bill, S1945, mandates live audio and visual coverage of all open sessions at the high court unless a majority of justices decide that such coverage in a particular case would violate the due process rights of any party involved.

The action comes as the Supreme Court prepares for an extraordinary five and a half hours of argument over three days in late March in a potential landmark challenge to President Obama’s health-care reform law. The case is drawing substantial national interest, but the public section of the courtroom is relatively small and cameras are not allowed.

“The Supreme Court decision will impact all Americans,” Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont said. “It is no surprise that there is tremendous public interest in witnessing these historic arguments.”

Passage by the Senate and the House is uncertain. The action marks the sixth time such a bill has been voted out of the judiciary committee and sent to the full Senate.

“I know that some justices are not fans of televising their proceedings,” Senator Leahy said. “I understand that they do not want to be made fun of through an unflattering video clip or to be quoted out of context. But that happens to the rest of us in public service all the time,” he said.

“It is not particularly pleasant, but it is part of our democracy,” Leahy said.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein was the only Democrat on the Judiciary Committee to vote against the bill. “The court does not want this,” she said. “I don’t believe we should tell the Supreme Court what to do. We are separate branches of government.”

She added that the spectacle of the O.J. Simpson case had convinced her that “because something is televised does not necessarily mean that justice is better.”

The measure is co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durban (D) of Illinois and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn joined Senator Grassley in supporting the bill, but the six other Republicans on the committee voted no.

During an October Senate hearing on the role of the judiciary, Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer were asked their views on whether high court sessions should be broadcast live.

“When I first came to the court … I was initially in favor of televising arguments, but the longer I have been there, the less good an idea I think it is,” Justice Scalia told the senators in a televised hearing Oct. 5.

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