The Monster in the Courtroom

36 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2013

See all articles by Sonja West

Sonja West

University of Georgia School of Law

Date Written: January 29, 2013


It is well known that Supreme Court Justices are not fans of cameras — specifically, video cameras. Despite continued pressure from the press, Congress, and the public to allow cameras into oral arguments, the Justices have steadfastly refused.

The policy arguments for allowing cameras in the courtroom focus on cameras as a means to increased transparency of judicial work. Yet these arguments tend to gloss over a significant point about the Court — it is not secretive. The Court allows several avenues of access to its oral arguments including the presence of the public and the press in the audience, the daily release of transcripts, the weekly release of audio recordings and even some live-blogging. These various means of access make clear that this is not simply an issue of transparency versus secrecy. Oral arguments at the Supreme Court are, in all fairness, open and public events.

This raises the central question — why the fear of video cameras? After allowing so much access, why not add this additional avenue of communication with the public? Each time the Justices ascend to the bench, they know they are at the center of the most high-profile show in the American legal system. Why close this single door when the walls around them are made of glass? This Article seeks to answer that question by identifying the qualities of video that make an otherwise open Court suddenly so fearful.

Keywords: Supreme Court, cameras, press, video, television, First Amendment, Equal Protection Clause, Freedom of the Press, grandstanding

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

West, Sonja, The Monster in the Courtroom (January 29, 2013). Brigham Young University Law Review, Forthcoming, UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-03, Available at SSRN:

Sonja West (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States
(706) 542-5145 (Phone)
(706) 542-5556 (Fax)


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