If Supreme Court Cases Were Television Dramas

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The Court is decades away from opening up its oral arguments to cameras. But let's skip the daytime TV all together and give the people what they really want: prime-time entertainment.


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Let's face facts. Despite the sincere protestations of many fine men and women, in and out of law, politics, and the media, the United States Supreme Court is likely still decades away from opening up its oral argument to television cameras. The justices -- whose average age is 66, don't forget -- simply don't see the issue of transparency the way many of the rest of us do. And lawyers and judges, by nature and training, hew to precedent and are typically conservative about changing old habits.

That's one reality. The other reality is that the Supreme Court this Term is poised to embark upon three monumental political cases that will both impact the legal rights of hundreds of millions of people and perhaps also determine the outcome of the national election in 2012. The American people deserve to witness live the oral argument in each of these cases -- on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, on the efficacy of the Arizona immigration statute, and on the viability of Texas' new redistricting plan -- but it ain't going to happen.

I have been thinking about the issue of cameras in court for a long time. And I think I have finally found the formula that will work. By advocating for live, mid-day coverage of court proceedings, advocates of cameras in courtrooms have been going about it all wrong, fundamentally misunderstanding where the money and power rest in television. The answer does not lie in daytime programming or in public affairs broadcasting. The answer lies in prime time. Here are just some of the pitches I would make to broadcast and cable executives.

Kennedy, Texas Ranger

When laid-back but loveable Anthony Kennedy got a call from his friends at the League of Latin American Citizens, he knew what his next assignment would be! Follow the Reagan-appointee as he travels from his native California over to the Lone Star State looking for adventure -- and trying to help his Hispanic friends figure out who their real enemies are in the Texas Legislature. Will the justice save the day for disenfranchised Latinos and perhaps ensure a 2012 Democratic victory in the House of Representatives? George Lopez co-stars.

The Clarence Clinic

America's favorite motor-home lovers, Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia, were just living their lives and minding their own business when the Affordable Care Act was struck down! Now, they are in charge of a mom-and-pop health clinic, where uninsured Americans come when they need help. Follow the antics and hi-jinx as Clarence tries to heal the sick without saying a word and his wife tries to heal Clarence with her good-natured ribbing! Think ER meets Doc Hollywood meets M*A*S*H meets The Federalist Society.

Sam, The Bounty Hunter

Shy and reserved by day but just bursting with righteous indignation by night, Sam Alito knew he would one day leave his job as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. So when the chance came to move to Arizona to ferret out undocumented immigrants on routine traffic stops, he grabbed it! Follow the adventures of Sam and his family as they meet interesting people and try to enforce the most odious provisions of Arizona's SB 1070. Think Reno 911 meets Dog the Bounty Hunter meets Sheriff Joe Arpaio meets The First 48

Recusing Elena

Should she or shouldn't she? That's the decision that young associate Elena Kagan faces each day in her new job at the nation's most exclusive and prestigious law firm, otherwise known as the Supreme Court. Haunted by her past (emails), which means different things to different people, Elena has to navigate the political and ethical shoals without a map, since her "firm" has never bothered to codify its own recusal rules. Think LA Law meets The Firm meets Ally McBeal meets the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Montemayor!

She's a brilliant Puerto Rican jurist. He's a savvy Texas politician. She likes the New York Yankees. He hates all types of Yankees. There have nothing in common -- nothing -- except their patriotism and love for one another. Sonia Sotomayor and Rick Perry take us on an hilarious and unforgettable romp through the ups and downs of modern relationships -- not to mention the modern-day jurisprudence of federalism. Think Love Story meets The Odd Couple meets The Southern Manifesto.

With all the time off they take for themselves -- with the shrinking docket they've experienced over the past 20 years -- the justices easily would have enough time to fulfill their constitutional duties and make their call times on set. They could film during the summer, when the Court is in recess for three months, instead of making speeches or going on book tours. Just like that -- problem solved. The American people learn about the three huge cases this Term. And the justices get to keep cameras out of their precious courtroom. Hey, Les Moonves: call me!
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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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