Can technology make courts more transparent?

Of the three branches of government, the judicial branch has been the most mystifying to the public.

Members of Congress tweet their every move, CSPAN airs floor proceedings live, and a camera crew follows the president around the world.

The nine members of the Supreme Court aren’t exactly known for their willingness to jump in front of the camera, let alone allow cameras in their courtroom.

The National Press Club hosted a panel conversation Friday on this exact topic, discussing the transparency gaps in the judicial system and how technology can be used to offer more insight into court proceedings.


Judge Ken Starr, former U.S. solicitor general and now president of Baylor University, said it’s time to bring technology into the courts and update them to modern standards.

Instead of seeing Supreme Court hearings, the only visual the public can get are the huddled masses outside the building, hoping to be let in to see the proceedings.

For years, people have called on the court to allow cameras into the highest court in the country, and many argue it would greatly increase its transparency. Timing for the conversation was perfect: This year has seen some of the most pivotal Supreme Court rulings in history, first with the Affordable Care Act and most recently with the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Supreme Court of Ohio said it is time to pull back the curtain to this branch of government.

“They’re missing out on a large opportunity to foster a greater understanding of our judicial system,” O’Connor said of the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to permit cameras in the courtroom.


All 50 states allow cameras in the state supreme courts, and O’Connor argues they are not intrusive to the proceedings at all.

The SCOTUSblog gives updates on court proceedings in nearly real-time, but the panel argued it’s not nearly enough.

Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal said With technology advancing at the current rate, there is very little reason why the court isn’t as transparent and open as technology has the ability to make it.

“It’s not a sufficient argument that people wouldn’t like what they see if court proceedings were aired,” Katyal said. “People want to know what’s going on. It’s not enough of an argument to keep cameras out of the courtroom anymore.”

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