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Supreme Court Doesn't Budge On Push For Cameras

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Only those lucky enough to get one of the Supreme Court's 400 spectator seats will be able to watch and hear the health care arguments in real time. That's because the nation's highest court has turned down requests to allow live broadcast of this week's proceedings.

NPR's David Welna reports on the latest attempt to push the court into the television age.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Dick Durbin is the Senate's number two Democrat. He's also a champion of open courts. This past week, Durbin rose on the Senate floor to chide the nine justices who occupy the majestic columned building that faces the Capitol.

SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN: It's not too much to ask the third branch of government at the highest level to share the arguments before the court with the people of America. Understand, there'll be hundreds of people present and watching this as it occurs. It isn't confidential or private. It's only kept away from the rest of America because this court doesn't want America to see the proceedings.

WELNA: Durbin and other senators wrote Chief Justice John Roberts back in November to ask that this week's oral arguments be televised live. Roberts replied finally came nine days ago. The court, he said, respectfully declined the senators' request. Roberts did offer though to make audio recordings of the arguments available several hours after each day's session had concluded. Durbin was not impressed.

DURBIN: For that gesture, I guess we can congratulate the United States Supreme Court for entering the radio age.

WELNA: So, Durbin moved that the Senate take up legislation passed by the Judiciary Committee in December, which requires live broadcasts of the court's open sessions. But Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions objected, saying its not clear Congress can impose such a law.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: It raises constitutional questions. Why do we want to push to the limit, and perhaps over the limit, and try to dictate to a co-equal branch how to conduct the adjudicative process - not the political process. We're the political branch.

WELNA: Another Senate Republican, Utah's Orrin Hatch is one of the few members of Congress promised a seat at this week's oral arguments. Hatch supports keeping cameras out of the courtroom.

SENATOR ORRIN HATCH: They know that once television comes in there, that it puts a whole new dimension on what goes on there.

WELNA: For Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley it's a matter of accountability. Grassley co-sponsored the bill that requires broadcast of the High Court's proceedings.

SENATOR CHARLES GRASSLEY REPUBLICAN, IOWA: I wish there were a change of heart. I'd like to have there be one. But, you know, you make progress in this city by inches, not by miles.

WELNA: Grassley says the court is simply delaying the inevitable.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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