Washington Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson offers excellent arguments for making the state’s highest court more accessible to the public by periodically hearing cases in venues outside of Olympia’s Temple of Justice.
They’re the same arguments that could be made for televising proceedings of the nation’s highest court – the U.S. Supreme Court.
This state’s Supreme Court already televises its proceedings on TVW (they can be watched online on tvw.org), but the justices see the need for even more outreach to the public — hence the road trips. They held panel discussions and heard oral arguments this week at the University of Puget Sound.
As Johnson told News Tribune columnist Larry LaRue, these events help “humanize the court and provide a civic opportunity for people to see how court works.” Also, he said, “Being more public about what we do, who we are, how the system works — that instills confidence.”
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If only the U.S. Supreme Court justices felt the same way. Allowing their sessions to be televised — C-Span has offered to air the proceedings if given the chance — could give the public valuable insight into how the court makes decisions. That’s especially important in controversial cases that have landmark status and are likely to be debated for years.
Sure, there’s always a chance that some attorney would take the opportunity to grandstand in front of the cameras. We trust that someone like no-nonsense Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would put a swift end to that with a stern rebuke.
And yes, there’s a good chance that someone like Jon Stewart could use footage to tweak, say, colorful Justice Antonin Scalia on “The Daily Show.” If this state’s justices — who have to stand for election, after all – can deal with media exposure, so can the appointed-for-life U.S. Supreme Court jurists.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll even be inspired to hear some of their cases’ oral arguments on college campuses and inspire the legal minds of the future.