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I love teaching and sharing knowledge. The Internet is a free passage to an amazing amount of knowledge provided by some of the greatest minds of the day. MIT, Oxford and other universities are now sharing lecture notes with the public and allowing us to dip into the overflowing fonts of wisdom that abound. Yale is but one university that has put actual lectures on the web.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Should we or shouldn't we

Article published Apr 29, 2006
The invisible Supreme CourtNat HentoffNewspaper Enterprise Association

The justices of our highest court - whose decisions affect millions of Americans for years - continue to oppose the televising of their oral arguments. On April 4, appearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Supreme Court's annual budget, Justice Anthony Kennedy actually raised the specter of Congress violating the separation of powers if it acts on bills to allow the common people to see how the justices decide cases as they question attorneys and argue with each other."We feel very strongly," Justice Kennedy told the committee, "that we have intimate knowledge of the dynamics and the mood of the court, and we think that proposals mandating and directing television in our court are inconsistent with the deference and etiquette that should apply between the branches.

"Etiquette? This is the same Justice Anthony Kennedy who, not long after Sept. 11, admirably went to high schools in several cities to sound out students on how much they knew of the Constitution - their own individual liberties and responsibilities as Americans - because, he said correctly: "The Constitution needs renewal and understanding each generation, or it's not going to last."But before the House subcommittee, Kennedy, dismissing the very notion that students and the rest of us could see the Constitution at work on television, said grandly: "We (justices) teach that . . . in our branch, we are judged by the way we write.

"Does Kennedy really believe that many millions of Americans read the complete opinions of the Supreme Court in print or on the Internet?

I once asked Justice William Brennan what he thought of televising the oral arguments. Unhesitatingly, he said, "Of course." He was very concerned that for too many Americans, the Court's workings are distant and unfamiliar. In one of our conversations, Brennan chastised much of the press for not starting to cover cases important to the public - from their very inception in the lower courts."That way," he said, "when the case gets to us, the issues - and the people involved - will be known."

At least Kennedy, before the House subcommittee, was not as vehement in his opposition to television in oral arguments as Souter was in his previous testimony there, when he pledged famously - or rather, infamously - that if television were allowed in his courtroom, it would be over his dead body.

He obviously doesn't realize - nor does Kennedy - that this magisterial courtroom is not a private condominium. It is our courtroom - for all Americans!

What also angers me is thinking of the organizations - The Bill of Rights Institute; We the People (The Citizen and the Constitution); John Whitehead's Rutherford Institute - and other groups teaching teachers how to bring the Constitution into the lives of students.

How valuable it would be for them to show students the Supreme Court in action.And why couldn't schools around the country wire their assembly halls to see and hear the justices in vigorous conflict about police searches, abortion, warrantless government interception of telephone calls and the Internet?

But Justice Clarence Thomas told the subcommittee that there would be security concerns and "members of the Court who now have some degree of anonymity would lose their anonymity."If he's that concerned about anonymity, maybe he should get another kind of day job._________

Nat Hentoff writes for the Newspaper Enterprise Association.