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Smile; You're On Judicial Camera By: Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 15, 2009


On what become known as Bastille Day, in 1789 King Louis XVI wrote in his dairy one word, Rien, French for “Nothing.” Some amateur and/or pro-Revolutionary historians have cited that entry to further their unkind attacks upon the King.  Although a devout Catholic, he wasn’t very bright, the fault of genes, not self-limitation; nor well-informed, the fault of courtiers and contemporary communications, neither his doing.

What a difference we've experience in communicatinng news since 220 years ago.  Transmission has accelerated to instant Internet/TV/radio/telephone and next-day newsprint.

Notwithstanding the immediate and almost-immediate dissemination of news, there are those who continue to promote - agitate? - for contemporaneous camera coverage of trials and arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States and all other federal tribunals.  Away with calmness, deliberation, dignity, relevance!   Up with showmanship, PR phraseology, drama!

The mob which stormed the Bastille may not have known that no Royal prisoner was incarcerated in the Bastille, only a handful of private debtors lawfully imprisoned by their creditors (hardly a realistic way nor fair way to collect a debt but not uncommon in 18th century Europe, as elsewhere).

Under the guise of First Amendment rights, American public demonstrations, usually ineffective and counterproductive though they are, are frequent, almost ubiquitous.

Few competent, experienced and serious attorneys appearing in a federal court advocate simultaneous TV and the like of the proceedings. Most state courts also do not permit it but that decision under our federalist system is the prerogative of States, not of the Feds.  This writer had one experience with live TV coverage, in a Florida non-jury trial court.  Counsel for Plaintiff played to the camera. At one point the Judge noted the attorney was, so to speak, off line, directing his argument neither to the Court nor the camera!  (In spite of the histrionics Plaintiff prevailed at trial but upon substantive issues it was reversed upon appeal as to this writer’s clients.)

Fortunately, at least five of the eight Supreme Court Justices who have not announced retirement disfavor turning the Court into a public circus or other manifestation of entertainment. The news will continue to travel at minutes short of concurrent pace.  The 111th Congress, like its predecessors, may opt for continued relevance and dignity in federal litigation.

Marion Edwyn Harrison is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.


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