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Can Congress Force the Supreme Court’s Hand on Cameras in Court?

George Doyle/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Congress is once again attempting to pass legislation to require televised Supreme Court proceedings, despite the extreme misgivings of many members of the court. A Senate judiciary subcommittee hearing Tuesday reignited an old separation of powers debate: Does Congress actually have the authority to pass such legislation?

The latest attempt is called the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011, introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Justice Anthony Kennedy has been one of the most vocal critics of such congressional attempts. He told Congress in 2008, “Our dynamic works.”

“The discussions that the justices have with the attorneys during oral arguments is a splendid dynamic,” he said. “If you introduce cameras, it is human nature for me to suspect from time to time that one of my colleagues is saying something for a sound bite. Please don’t introduce that insidious dynamic into what is now a collegial court.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chaired the hearing Tuesday and argued that public access is severely limited even though the court releases transcripts and audio recordings of the arguments. Klobuchar noted that the court has very few seats for those who want to witness history and said, “It shouldn’t be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the court in action.”

But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., disagreed and said the current system is working well. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ” he cautioned.

Sessions is concerned about pushing legislation that the majority of the court opposes. “We should take very serious [the court's view] and respect it,” he said. “It’s their domain. ”

Opponents of the legislation argue that the court is concerned that cameras would change the way lawyers and judges present their arguments in a way that would ultimately hurt the court as an institution.

Sen. Klobuchar said she thought the court is above such concerns. “I was trying to picture Ruth Bader Ginsburg turning into Judge Judy,” she joked. “It’s not going to happen.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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