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Institution blinds justices on Supreme Court cameras
by Jake Highton
Jul 24, 2013 | 1056 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of government institutions sooner or later take on the coloration of that institution.

Take the cases of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. Both were in favor of camera coverage of Supreme Court oral arguments.

During her confirmation hearings, Sotomayor said courtroom cameras would let citizens see the Supreme Court at work.  “I have had positive experiences with cameras,” she said about serving on U.S. district and circuit courts.

But after four years on the Supreme Court, she changed her mind. She now opposes cameras in court. She has become an “an upper-class snob” just like the other justices who adamantly oppose cameras in court.

She now argues erroneously that most Americans would not understand Supreme Court arguments and there was no point “in letting them try.” Most Americans couldn’t care less about the Supreme Court. But for those who do care, camera coverage is important.

Justice Kagan has also done a volte-face. At her confirmation hearings, she said camera coverage “would be a great thing for the institution and a great thing for the American people.”

Now she claims “people might play to the camera” and coverage could be misused. Ridiculous. My experience attending a Supreme Court oral argument revealed extreme respect of and even deference to the justices.

The Canadian Supreme Court has had televised oral arguments for two decades. Owen Rees, the court’s executive director, says that “filming has increased the public’s understanding of its work.”

True. But the U.S. Supreme Court insists it is “different.” Nonsense. It is unable to give a persuasive reason for keeping the court veiled.

As Kyu Youin, University of Oregon journalism professor, remarks: the Supreme Court betrays “a distinctly American commitment to free expression.”

“Many people outside the U.S. are wondering why it is so calcified in its thinking about cameras,” Youin added. Answer: because it is also calcified about many of its decisions.

No consumer recourse

In one of its calcified rulings recently, the court held that consumers, seriously harmed by generic drugs, don’t deserve compensation.

The court, by the usual Retrograde Five margin of 5-4, overturned a lower court decision that awarded $21 million to a woman for pain and suffering caused by reaction to a generic drug. The ruling leaves people harmed by generic drugs no recourse.

The New York Times paints a grim picture. The woman, Karen Bartlett of New Hampshire, suffered dreadful injuries after taking a generic version of an anti-inflammatory drug, Sulindac, for shoulder pain.

“She suffered severe reaction in which two-thirds of her skin sloughed off,” the Times said. “She was left permanently disfigured, legally blind and with permanent damage to her lungs and esophagus.”

Justice Alito, writing for the majority, said the generic company, Mutual Pharmaceutical, was not liable because it had no power to change the chemicals or the warning label.

It’s a typical made-up reason for a court decision. As the liberal dissenters declared, the company should pay compensation for any harm done and consider taking the drug off the market.

Bar to deportation

The Supreme Court recently ruled, 7-2, that a conviction for marijuana distribution under Georgia law should not result in automatic deportation. A Jamaican, legally in the United States, was ordered deported by an immigration judge.

His offense? Possessing 1.3 grams of pot. The amount makes two cigarettes. Justice Sotomayor, writing for the majority, noted the absurdity of deportation for a misdemeanor.

Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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