Scalia turns on the charm

SCALIA TURNS ON THE CHARM…. When Supreme Court justices stop being polite, and start getting touchy.

Where others fear to tread, a 20-year-old college student from Tequesta, Fla., boldly stepped forward Tuesday to ask Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a question he did not like during a public appearance in West Palm Beach. “That’s a nasty, impolite question,” said Scalia, himself an expert on tough questioning, and he at first refused to answer it.

The question from Sarah Jeck, a political science major at Florida Atlantic University, was hardly shocking. As Tony Mauro explained, Jeck “asked whether the rationale for Scalia’s well-known opposition to cameras in the Supreme Court was ‘vitiated’ by the facts that the Court allows public visitors to view arguments and releases full argument transcripts to the public, and that justices go out on book tours.”

This was “nasty” and “impolite”?

Scalia, after blowing the question, eventually returned to the subject, saying he opposed camera access in the courts because of the risk posed by “30-second takeouts,” which, without the full context, could give Americans a misleading picture of court proceedings. “Why should I be a party to the miseducation of the American people?” Scalia asked.

At the risk of sounding “nasty,” I’m not sure this makes any sense. Reporters are allowed to take notes during Supreme Court deliberations. If Scalia’s right, journalists may publish reports that fail to give a full context of a complex legal issue, so they should be barred, too. Indeed, the high court publishes transcripts of oral arguments. What if I read a few paragraphs and feel like I got the gist of things? Better ban transcripts, too.

For that matter, this applies to other branches. Cameras are on hand for White House press briefings, and “30-second takeouts” might not reflect the president’s full position on an issue. Better yank the camera crews from the briefing room to prevent “the miseducation of the American people.”

If Scalia wants to shield the judiciary from public scrutiny, he’ll have to do better than this. And kudos to Sarah Jeck for broaching the subject, and enduring Scalia’s ire.