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Tilting at Windmills

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February 4, 2009

SCALIA TURNS ON THE CHARM.... When Supreme Court justices stop being polite, and start getting touchy.

Where others fear to tread, a 20-year-old college student from Tequesta, Fla., boldly stepped forward Tuesday to ask Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a question he did not like during a public appearance in West Palm Beach. "That's a nasty, impolite question," said Scalia, himself an expert on tough questioning, and he at first refused to answer it.

The question from Sarah Jeck, a political science major at Florida Atlantic University, was hardly shocking. As Tony Mauro explained, Jeck "asked whether the rationale for Scalia's well-known opposition to cameras in the Supreme Court was 'vitiated' by the facts that the Court allows public visitors to view arguments and releases full argument transcripts to the public, and that justices go out on book tours."

This was "nasty" and "impolite"?

Scalia, after blowing the question, eventually returned to the subject, saying he opposed camera access in the courts because of the risk posed by "30-second takeouts," which, without the full context, could give Americans a misleading picture of court proceedings. "Why should I be a party to the miseducation of the American people?" Scalia asked.

At the risk of sounding "nasty," I'm not sure this makes any sense. Reporters are allowed to take notes during Supreme Court deliberations. If Scalia's right, journalists may publish reports that fail to give a full context of a complex legal issue, so they should be barred, too. Indeed, the high court publishes transcripts of oral arguments. What if I read a few paragraphs and feel like I got the gist of things? Better ban transcripts, too.

For that matter, this applies to other branches. Cameras are on hand for White House press briefings, and "30-second takeouts" might not reflect the president's full position on an issue. Better yank the camera crews from the briefing room to prevent "the miseducation of the American people."

If Scalia wants to shield the judiciary from public scrutiny, he'll have to do better than this. And kudos to Sarah Jeck for broaching the subject, and enduring Scalia's ire.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Bush v Gore. Case closed.

Posted by: DMB ESQ on February 4, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

He's a strict originalist, therefore, he MUST allow cameras as NOTHING in the Constitution allows the Supreme Court to prevent CAMERAs.

Posted by: James on February 4, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

So he's content to be a party to shitty, Constitution-rotting jurisprudence, but not miseducation?

Posted by: norbizness on February 4, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Scalia couldn't initially think of a good answer, so like a rat (or Bush or Cheney)trapped in a corner he showed his teeth and spit. He returned to the question as soon as he thought of a plausible argument to cover his sorry ass.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on February 4, 2009 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

This is the first time I ever heard of Scalia taking questions from the public. It seems his normal position is that public perception is not his problem. "Get over it." The fact that he got upset over such a tame question, suggests that the audience was told a list of subjects that were off limits.

Posted by: Danp on February 4, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Meh. This is clearly a bullshit answer from Scalia - if it were an honest answer he would have had it at the ready rather than immediately going for the ad hominem namecalling attack on the questioner, and then coming back around later to answer the question once he could spend some time trying to come up with a rational response.

The visceral emotional reaction to someone asking him to justify his stance is a tell - whatever his reason is, it's emotional not rational and he knows it to some degree. In all likelihood it's because he puts a premium on "tradition" and he hates change - cameras in the courtroom are not traditional and would be a change and so at an emotional level he's against it.

Posted by: NonyNony on February 4, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

I pasted a picture of Scalia next to the entry "asshole" in my Merriam-Webster.

One entry found.
Main Entry: ass·hole
Pronunciation: \ˈas-ˌ(h)ōl\
Function: noun
Date: 14th century
1usually vulgar : anus
2 ausually vulgar : a stupid, incompetent, or detestable person busually vulgar : the worst place —used in phrases like asshole of the world

Posted by: steve duncan on February 4, 2009 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Sarah Jeck, you have a very bright future. Keep up the "impolite"ness.

Posted by: Kevin on February 4, 2009 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I don't think Steve has really demolished Nino's opinion, poorly made though his argument was. Television is entirely unlike print in terms of its impact; and the court, unlike a WH press conference, does a lot of argument-for-argument's-sake, recordings of which might indeed be too easy to use badly. Naturally, Scalia discounts the possibility that they could be used well.

This is not to say that a.) cameras definitely shouldn't be allowed in the SCOUS, or b.) Scalia isn't a self-important, authoritarian, intellectually incoherent little prick - he is. Just sayin'...harder argument than what was offered here.

Posted by: jonnybutter on February 4, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

There should be webcams in there.

Posted by: red state mike on February 4, 2009 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

It pains me to defend Scalia, whose response to this young woman shows him to be a pompous ass if nothing else.

But his position on cameras hardly flows from all of the other things we dislike about him and those whose ideological water he abrasively carriers from the bench.

I have known many very fine judges, of both parties, who very strongly object to cameras in the courtroom. I clerked for a perfectly liberal Carter appointee who strongly objected cameras in the courtroom.

Look, these folks have turned on a TV in their lives -- they know it cheapens almost everything in its sight, they know how people change and play to the camera, and they don't want lawyers becoming preening drama queens stirring up fights because it makes good TV. They don't want witnesses trying for Oscars and Emmys on the stand. And they don't want important issues reduced to who wore what clothes, like Sen. Clinton the first time she wore a v-neckine after announcing her Presidential candidacy.

Most of them appointed before W believe deeply that their courtroom is where calm, deliberative processes take place that are respectful to the participants. They fear, with some reason, that live TV cameras will make that much harder to attain.

I'm of a younger generation than most and I've come to expect that everything in life is on video. so i have mixed feelings about cameras in court. but i am not at all dismissive of the arguments made by those who are opposed.

Posted by: zeitgeist on February 4, 2009 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Why didn't Cheney shoot Scalia in the face? "Impolite" is his resonating characteristic, his authority is his ego. How the fuck half of these people made it onto the highest court in the land is beyond my comprehension.. I suggest term limits.

Posted by: The Galloping Trollop on February 4, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Scalia's nasty, insecure, and overrated. In short, he's a conservative.

Posted by: TT on February 4, 2009 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

But then I'd be deprived of Nina Totenberg's reenactment of the court's arguments.

Posted by: rusrus on February 4, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

they know it cheapens almost everything in its sight, they know how people change and play to the camera, and they don't want lawyers becoming preening drama queens stirring up fights because it makes good TV.

That's exactly right, but of course, that's not the rationale advanced by Scalia, who is usually wrong even when he is right.

Posted by: rea on February 4, 2009 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Impeach Scalia now. The man is unfit to sit.

Posted by: Northern Observer on February 4, 2009 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Scalia is an idiot. He doesn't realize that torture during an investigation is punishment for not producing information...

From CBS News:

"If someone's in custody, as in Abu Ghraib, and they are brutalized by a law enforcement person, if you listen to the expression 'cruel and unusual punishment,' doesn't that apply?" Stahl asks.

"No, No," Scalia replies.

"Cruel and unusual punishment?" Stahl asks.

"To the contrary," Scalia says. "Has anybody ever referred to torture as punishment? I don't think so."

"Well, I think if you are in custody, and you have a policeman who's taken you into custody…," Stahl says.

"And you say he's punishing you?" Scalia asks.

"Sure," Stahl replies.

"What's he punishing you for? You punish somebody…," Scalia says.

"Well because he assumes you, one, either committed a crime…or that you know something that he wants to know," Stahl says.

"It's the latter. And when he's hurting you in order to get information from you…you don’t say he's punishing you. What’s he punishing you for? He's trying to extract…," Scalia says.

"Because he thinks you are a terrorist and he's going to beat the you-know-what out of you…," Stahl replies.

"Anyway, that’s my view," Scalia says. "And it happens to be correct."

Posted by: Haik Bedrosian on February 4, 2009 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

"This is the first time I ever heard of Scalia taking questions from the public..."

Then you should enjoy this seven minutes. What an ass.

Posted by: MissMudd on February 4, 2009 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

In fairness to Scalia, most if not all of the Justices take this position on the camera issue. Souter is generally regarded as the fiercest opponent of televising oral arguments.

Danp-- Scalia actually makes public appearances and takes questions with some regularity, and some of the things questioners throw at him are genuinely offensive, which is why his response to this rather benign inquiry strikes me as odd.

Posted by: JRD on February 4, 2009 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

This is the first time I ever heard of Scalia taking questions from the public.

He often does, particularly at universities. I've seen him do it numerous times, and each time I've watched his snappish, sullen performance when he gets a question he doesn't like. Right or wrong in his answers, his attitude is far too frequently patronizing, rude and offensive.

Posted by: shortstop on February 4, 2009 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Cameras didn't work so well in the O. J. Simpson case, where the attorneys on both sides as well as the judge just couldn't resist playing to the camera. Nino, who likes to be a little outrageous anyway, probably realizes he wouldn't be able to withstand the temptation.

Posted by: J Frank Parnell on February 4, 2009 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

We're Going Through This In New Mexico, Too

Webcams in the Legislature! Will they be permitted? Seems as if last year, the Legislature authorized funding to buy video equipment so that sessions could be carried live on the Legislature's web page. This year, they can't afford to operate them. And many would prefer the cameras stay off - the argument being, "What if the cameras caught me sleeping?"

Other major legislative action: bolo ties were at last approved on the Senate floor.

Posted by: Zandru on February 4, 2009 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

The arguments against TV in courtrooms on the grounds that courtroom dynamics would be harmed have a great deal of merit. I've been on juries and I don't want my friends to see me struggling to stay awake, picking my nose, and grimacing at the obvious lies being told by the lawyers and police. And judges are ordinarily such self-important dicks that giving them live TV coverage to show off would be very destructive.

The above does nothing to alter the fact that Scalia is living proof of the old adage that there are far more horse's asses than horses in this world.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on February 4, 2009 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

"Why should I be a party to the miseducation of the American people?" Scalia asked.

Yes why do that when you can be a party to overthrowing a presidental election!

Posted by: James G on February 4, 2009 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

Could we stop wasting time on Constitutional amendments about Senatorial appointments and get on the whole "Supreme Court Justice 'til you die" thing? Given the role the court plays today, there's no way we should be stuck with people like Scalia as they degenerate into bitter crankhood with old age.


Posted by: MBunge on February 4, 2009 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Why should I be a party to the miseducation of the American people?" Scalia asked.

The response to his response should be, "when haven't you been party to the miseducation of the American people?"

Posted by: Always Hopeful on February 4, 2009 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

they don't want lawyers becoming preening drama queens stirring up fights because it makes good TV.

This may be true. But how about if a Justice is already a preening drama queen who stirs up fights? Or, if Scalia acts exactly the same way as he already does, doesn't this refute the thesis?

Posted by: Jay B. on February 4, 2009 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

This was "nasty" and "impolite"?

conservatives can dish it out..

but they can't take it..

Posted by: mr. irony on February 4, 2009 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

This from a man who argued the actions of a television character should guide U.S. treatment of prisoners of war.

Posted by: The Answer WAS Orange on February 4, 2009 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

So why doesn't the Supreme Court operate cameras themselves, with each justice defining what a complete statement is and their staff uploading to YouTube etc.

These guys are just pompous idiots or really too old to understand what technology can do. It really will take people born after the baby boom to do that, I guess...

Posted by: Crissa on February 4, 2009 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Scalia doesn't want cameras in his court recording his anti-Constitution antidemocratic anti-American misdeeds, but he loves those cameras at his book signings with all that West Palm Beach old money fawning over his every word. Doubtless these shareholders really appreciate Scalia giving corporations like Exxon Mobil a break and screwing the people of Alaska decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill destroyed the local economy and wiped out thousands of Americans financially, hard-working Americans who only got a few thousand dollars in compensation as a result of Scalia and his colleagues thinly veiled corporate protectionism disguised as an impartial decision, which was totally lacking in anything resembling justice. Antonin Scalia is quite obviously a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America.

Props to my peeps at my Al mamata FAU (Florida Atlantic University) for embarrassing and exposing this justice of the Supreme Court who badly needs to be publicly exposed and embarrassed at every opportunity.

Florida Student Asks Scalia a Question -- and Gets Scolded

U.S. Supreme Court justice shows confidence, combativeness at West Palm Beach forum

Posted by: Aaron B Brown on February 5, 2009 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

A high court proceeding should be dignified, not an Oprah Winfrey reality show to titillate.

Posted by: Luther on February 5, 2009 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

"A high court proceeding should be dignified, not an Oprah Winfrey reality show to titillate" (Luther).

Agreed, but either you're one of those people who works day and night to prevent transparency in government, or you're one of those hundreds of the millions of Americans who are unfortunate enough to be forced to rely on network TV for their information and are completely unfamiliar with C-SPAN 1, 2 and 3. Because that's little more than a copout.

Cameras watch people everywhere in America today, why shouldn't we have our elected officials and especially judges with lifetime appointments being scrutinized. At the very least a video record should be made even if it isn't for public consumption, for history's sake, and for the sake of the integrity of the Republic, integrity which we all watched being undermined over the last eight years.

Posted by: Aaron B Brown on February 5, 2009 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

It's time for a revisit to DeNovo for my comment:


In that duck blind
Lady Justice unveils
Her traditional blindfold
For these bonding males:
Scalia and Cheney,
Shotguns at attack,
Taking aim at Justice,

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at March 23, 2004 07:28 AM

Posted by: Shag from Brookline on February 5, 2009 at 7:49 AM | PERMALINK



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