Barred from the Public Square

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these seekers of Constitutional affirmation of American equality.

They’ve been lining up outside the U.S. Supreme Court courthouse for five days now, hoping to catch a glimpse or word of tomorrow’s oral arguments in two legal cases that have the potential to provide hitherto-denied economic benefits and civil rights to same-gender couples.

Although the line to gain access to the highest court in the land as it conducts the public’s business might be pretty long even if  that court did allow camera coverage of its proceedings. Banning cameras, though, has guaranteed a much longer line.

I long thought it was a mystery why the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t allow camera coverage. Even some states that ban camera coverage of trial-court proceedings let them in for appellate-court proceedings. The idea, I guess, is that trial-court proceedings, because they include testimony, are messier and provide more opportunities for grandstanding and playing to the camera. Appellate-court proceedings, which are devoid of testimony, are perhaps perceived to be more dignified.

I truly don’t buy the Scalia/Thomas bull pucky that lowly members of the public wouldn’t understand their court’s proceedings, or worse, might misunderstand them.

The real reason for not allowing cameras into their court, I have come to firmly believe, is that those robed rulers love their anonymity. They are free, for the most part, to move about the country unrecognized by the unwashed masses–to the extent that they deign to be within proximity of said masses.

Cameras would serve to foil that anonymity.

The tragedy of that is cameras have become a metaphor for the town square. Cameras have literally replaced the town square of old.

Back in the day, before sprawling metropolises, treadmill lifestyles and work schedules made it impossible for the vast majority of Americans to attend court proceedings, citizens could participate in and witness our government — specifically, the third branch — conduct our business by walking or driving the family horse and buggy to the courthouse in the town square.

As it is, we must be beholden to these ‘public servants’ we pay to conduct our business for us to let us know either through news organization scribes, transcripts and, occasionally, delayed audio recordings, rather than being able to see with our own eyes.

A court ruling on same-gender marriage might bring equality into the 21st Century. Would that they would render a decision that would do the same for public access to the important work they do.

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