Courts Are Public
The Supreme Court of the United States has declined to renew the press pass of Lyle Denniston. Mr. Denniston is the scholarly, functionally unbiased, and mind-bogglingly quickly analytical correspondent assigned to cover live hearings and dissemination of opinions by the Peabody Award-winning SCOTUSblog, which in turn has become the premier source of accurate and legally weighty reporting on the nation’s highest court.
This is ridiculous. The Court does itself a great disservice by making Mr. Denniston, its most trustworthy journalist, stand in line with the general public to deal with its big cases. I do not and probably never will understand why the Court seems so anxious to swaddle itself out of the public view. Its hearing chamber is ridiculously small, but the Justices seem almost maniacally opposed to the idea of putting in cameras and microphones so the public can follow along with what’s going on in there — notwithstanding that it makes transcripts of its hearings available on a same-day basis on its own website.
Courts must conduct their business in public, and explain their rulings in public. Our ancestors fought a war for political independence for, among other reasons precisely the requirement that court proceedings be held in public. There may be good reasons for particular kinds of cases to occur out of public view, but those should be the exceptions rather than the rule and there ought to be a clear and substantial reason why anything the court does should ever not be made as accessible to the public as anything the President does or anything Congress does.
The Court handles the public’s business, after all. If the Justices are going to be as committed as Justice Kennedy suggests in the link above to explaining themselves and doing their work publicly by way of the written word, then no better, faster, or more dispassionate observer to facilitate a written dispensation and explanation of what it does could be conceived of than Mr. Denniston. Much as I like the Jeffrey Toobins and David Savages of the press corps and have come to appreciate their perspectives so as to reverse-lens their reporting, I’ve never needed to reverse-lens Mr. Denniston.