At a Senate judiciary committee hearing on Wednesday, Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer momentarily put aside their differences to bemoan how little the average American knows about the judicial branch.
Scalia said that the American people “don’t understand our Constitution,” and rued that few Americans have read The Federalist Papers. Breyer praised former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for fighting to have American high schools put an emphasis on civics lessons.
But while they readily discussed the public’s ignorance of the judiciary at a hearing called to discuss the role of judges according to the Constitution, they brushed aside a suggestion made by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that would allow the American public to better inform itself about how the high court works: the allowance of video cameras in the Supreme Court.
“If I really thought the American people would get educated, I’d be all for it,” said Scalia, arguing that the media outlets would spin whatever footage they had to serve their own agendas.
“There’s already a cult of personality,” Breyer added in agreement. “Lets not make it worse.”
Scalia then turned the tables on Blumenthal.
“Do you really think the process in the Senate has improved since the proceedings have been televised?” he asked, suggesting that the modern Senate is less functional than its predecessors, despite having characterized legislative “gridlock” as part of the beauty of checks and balances earlier in the hearing.
Blumenthal, after joking that he would duck the question – Scalia himself had done so on several occasions throughout the hearing to avoid answer a “policy question” – defended the introduction of video cameras to the Senate.
“I think openness and transparency improves institutions,” he said. “I think an audio and visual recording of Supreme Court proceedings would essentially do the same.”
Despite the justices’ lack of faith in the average American to interpret Supreme Court proceedings, Scalia conceded earlier in the hearing that perhaps he isn’t an expert on the average American.
“I have very little contact with the American people, I’m sorry to say,” he said. And as someone who believes the constitution should be interpreted strictly within its 18th century context, he added he doesn’t weigh “modern American values” when applying fundamental constitutional principles to contemporary America.