Sen. Arlen Specter, (D-Pa.), took to the floor of the Senate on Monday to talk about the vacancy on the Supreme Court, and while he was at it, one of his favorite Supreme Court topics: camera access.
"I believe Congress has the authority, should it choose to do so, to direct the Supreme Court to permit its proceedings to be televised," Specter said. "The Supreme Court, in a series of cases, has said the public has a right to know what is going on inside the courtroom, and that was the case which involved Richmond Newspapers. Well, in an electronic era, where the public gets so much of its information via television or via radio, there ought to be that access."
Nonetheless, Specter noted he has backed off past attempts to require cameras in the high court, instead pushing for a "recommendation" that the Court allow cameras. But his argument in favor of camera access still has the same edge to it -- a strong hint that if the public could only see the Court in action, it might see what he sees, namely a Court that is ideological and not deferential enough to Congress.
"If the public had access to what was going on in the Supreme Court," Specter said, "it seems to me there would be a clamor to have more openness, more transparency, and greater public appreciation of the fact that the Supreme Court is a battleground."
Specter noted that at his confirmation hearing in 2005, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said that overturning precedent is a "jolt to the system" that should be avoided. Said Specter, "Well, there have been quite a number of jolts in the system with his key vote. We had a very extensive questioning and commentary about Chief Justice Roberts’ deference to congressional fact-finding. Only Congress has hearings, hears witnesses, and makes determinations of fact-finding. When the voting rights [case] came up, all of that seemed to have been forgotten."
On the subject of the Stevens vacancy, Specter joined the chorus of those who'd like to see a nominee come from outside the ranks of sitting appellate federal judges. "Why not look for an ex-governor like Earl Warren?" Specter asked rhetorically. "Why not look for an ex-Attorney General like Robert Jackson? Why not look for an ex-senator or a current senator, like Hugo Black, who was a Senator when he was selected for the Court, or perhaps even an ex-president? William Howard Taft had been president of the United States and later served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States."
By that last comment, was Specter throwing a new name into the hopper: Bill Clinton? Apart from two ex-presidents named Bush and one 85-year-old named Carter, the only other ex-president, and the one with a law degree, is Clinton -- not that a law degree is required.