As a country, most of us subscribe to certain precepts. These certain precepts keep things running in our country. One of those precepts is that the U.S. Supreme Court is the final arbiter of constitutional issues. Over the last couple of centuries, most of us have come to accept that Supreme Court’s role in deciding those “big” issues. That was not always true. Through the 1850’s or longer, many government officials would take it upon themselves to judge the constitutionality or rightness of federal laws. Now, universally, we wait for the Unied States Supreme Court to resolve the big disputes. The decision in Roe v. Wade rocked that precept as much as any decision has. But, still, most U.S. citizens do not seriously question the Supreme Court’s role in United States society.
So, it is surprising to me that some groups have targeted attack ads against the United States Supreme Court. Fox and MSNBC will broadcast ads that attack the U.S. Supreme Court as the least transparent branch of government. Well, yea. That is why it is called the Supreme Court. Folks do not routinely get to listen to private deliberations by judges. It does not work that way.Judges think, research, discuss and then announce their decisions. There is no camera watching them deliberate.
But, the group known as Fix the Court wants changes. It asks that oral arguments be broadcast live, make public announcements of decisions, that judges post their financial disclosures online, adhere to the code of judicial ethics for federal judges, disclose public appearances and allow press coverage, and to report reasons for recusals. See ABA Bar Journal report.
It is true that Supreme Court justices do not report the reasons for their recusal. Sometimes, there is some mystery about why a particular justice recused himself/herself from a case. So far, that mystery has not affected a case in any way. And, in fact, most judges across the country do not explain why they recuse themselves either.
Broadcasting oral arguments and making announcements about a decision that has been released. Really? That has been discussed over and over. Many judges, not just the nine justices, refuse to allow cameras or microphones inside a court room. Judges are loath to give up any control over their courtroom. I cannot blame them. Civil discourse inside a courtroom is indeed a precious commodity. Emotions run high. Perceived slights are everywhere. Judges are right to guard closely their tenuous control of the courtroom.
Fix the Court has some agenda. That agenda does not include the efficient, fair process of justice. My guess is someone wants to “adjust” or fine-tune the relative independence of the judiciary. We may, and often will, disagree with particular decisions, but we should never reduce the independence of the federal judges.