Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Pinoy and American Supreme Court

Below is an article from The New York Times on the resistance of magistrates of the US Supreme Courtto allow television coverage of its hearings.

In the Philippines, there's what one may call regulated access or at least, when it concerns controversial issues subjected to oral arguments by the Philippine Supreme Court. I can recall at least five oral arguments, the most recent was yesterday when the legality of Calibrated Pre-emptive Response and Batas Pambansa 880 was tackled, where the Court has allowed limited access to the session hall.

Shortly before an oral argument starts, television cameras are allowed inside until after all the 15 justices of the Court have entered. Once the Chief Justice bangs his gavel, cameramen are by arrangement escorted out of the courtroom where only reporters are allowed to follow the proceedings (the longest oral deliberations lasted until 2 a.m. the next day). The public is also allowed to witness deliberations.

The merit of this set-up is that it allows the public to, at the very least, observe the workings of the Court, the third branch of government commonly regarded as the last bulwarck of democracy in this country.

It is interesting to observe how justices quiz petitioners and respondents on the issue, and while justices will be the first ones to say that their line of questioning does not, in any way, indicate their leanings which will determine the decision, it's still of value to observe how they construct their views on things.

It was former Chief Justice Hilario Davide who instituted the Public Information Office (PIO). Prior to his tenure, Supreme Court reporters are left to their own devices in looking for stories. One veteran reporter describes it like "awaiting manna from heaven."

Davide has envisioned a Supreme Court that is not detached from the populace. He had described it as the coming down of the so-called gods from Mt. Olympus and the opening of the fortress that is the Court.

2 Justices Indicate Supreme Court Is Unlikely to Televise Sessions

Published: April 5, 2006
WASHINGTON, April 4 — Television cameras are not about to enter the Supreme Court any time soon.

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, left, and Clarence Thomas appeared Tuesday before a House subcommittee hearing in Washington.

That was the unmistakable message that two Supreme Court justices gave Congress at a hearing on Tuesday on the court's budget.

Several members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, treasury, judiciary, and housing and urban development, which handles the judicial branch's annual appropriation, raised the issue of television after Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas had finished discussing the court's $76.4 million budget request.

Last year, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill to require the Supreme Court to permit its arguments to be televised unless a majority of the justices voted to bar television on a case-by-case basis. Other proposals include mandating television access, or simply permitting and encouraging it.

Asked for his views on the subject, Justice Kennedy said it raised a "sensitive point" about the constitutional separation of powers.

"It's not for the court to tell Congress how to conduct its proceedings," and the reverse was also true, he said. He added, "We feel very strongly 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."

Justice Thomas was equally firm, warning that television in the courtroom would have a negative impact on the argument sessions.

"It runs the risk of undermining the manner in which we consider cases," he said. He added that some members of the court "feel more strongly than others," but that all agreed that the court should decide the issue for itself. "The general consensus is not one of glee," he said.

Justice Thomas also said that televising the court would raise security concerns, "as members of the court who now have some degree of anonymity would lose their anonymity."

The justices, who have been the court's representatives to Congress on budget matters for several years, appeared to relish the chance to elaborate on the television question. Justice Kennedy described the absence of cameras as a positive.

"We teach that our branch has a different dynamic," he said. "We teach that we are judged by what we write."
One member of the subcommittee, Representative John W. Olver, Democrat of Massachusetts, appeared taken aback by Justice Kennedy's fervor. "You've made it clear that you are part of the cerebral branch," Mr. Olver said.

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