The courts conduct the nation’s business. The public’s business. The courts stand apart from the rest of the government so that they can pass judgment over the government when need be. And the public has a right to see what the courts do.
We fought a revolution for, among other things, public courts and public hearings. Having courts do business in the full light of day where everyone can see what the courts are doing is a fundamental part of the notion of due process.
Normally, you can walk right in to a court and observe the proceedings for no other reason than it’s your right as a citizen to do so, and you need offer no other explanation. (You do not have a right to disrupt the proceedings, of course.)
Some courts, however, have limited seating. Like the Supreme Court of the United States, the court that (other than the one handling your traffic ticket) is probably the one you care most about. For high-profile cases, SCOTUS can be packed. For super high-profile cases like the marriage cases, the line to get in and observe oral argument can be out the door and there are some very odd facets of waiting in line to get in. Professor Dale Carpenter describes nearly scandalous conditions for the line to get in to SCOTUS for the same-sex marriage cases. Very little of it sits right with me, but all of it could be circumvented rather easily. Here’s my solution, and I still can’t understand why it would even be controversial although I expect blowback today as I always get when I jump on this particular soapbox.
Every courtroom in every state in this nation should be on video, streaming to YouTube. Live. Every traffic ticket and every small claims squabble. Every divorce, adoption, eviction, and arraignment. From the moment the court opens its doors until the moment public proceedings conclude. If you could walk in off the street and see it live, you should be able to tune in on YouTube. The courts are public. The public should be able to watch. Period, full stop: it’s a matter of right. How much could this possibly cost? A dollar a day?
This should be especially true for the Supreme Court of the United States which, after all, is the ultimate arbiter of our highest law.