The Irony of Last Week’s Historic Supreme Court Video Leak

Video hit the net last week of one of the most secretive places in our nation. In an historic move, a hero to some and criminal to others broke the law when he entered a government building that was not discussing classified information and videotaped what happened.

The place in question was the Supreme Court — where, since 1946, no one has been allowed to photograph or videotape court proceedings. (Drawing pictures is cool, though.)

The Court has opted out of photography and videotaping for a variety of reasons, citing everything from witnesses refusing to testify to plain ol’ camera shyness and concerns about being misinterpreted — this, despite transcripts of all proceedings being available to the public. (Also, they don’t want anyone to rip-off their super-duper secret handshake.)

While the video doesn’t shed light on the Ginsberg double fist bump, it does capture a protester in the audience standing up and saying:

I rise on behalf of the majority of the American people who believe that money is not speech, corporations are not people, and our democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder.

As he was finishing, and racking up federal charges in the process, a group of security personnel pulled the activist, Noah Newkirk, from his seat, at which point Newkirk shouted:

Money is not speech! Corporations are not people! Overturn Citizens United!

Newark was referring, of course, to the case of Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission. The controversial 2010 decision, ostensibly in the name of free speech, vastly shifted dynamics of campaign financing – allowing for corporations and individuals to donate unlimited — and sometimes undisclosed — sums to political committees.

The decision’s many critics argue that that if the spending of money is to be considered speech then it runs the risk of nullifying the speech of those who don’t have that money to spend, meaning more people are seeing their speech threatened than enhanced by the ruling. The argument (echoed by Newark) that “corporations are not people,” and the rise of so-called “dark money” in politics are just a couple of the reverberations that have hit the U.S. electoral system since the decision was made.

Also last week, George Washington University law professor John Turley testified before the House on the erosion of our tripartite government — blaming the executive branch for cutting the legs out of an infighting and myopic Congress and a “professor emeritus” acting Supreme Court. And while the highest court of the land is still grinding out law, it’s curious to note that most media attention gets placed on the executive and congressional branches of government.

The parallels between the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court’s refusal to allow for video, and Jonathan Turley’s critique are notable. As media attention has diverted away from the courts they have been very active in deciding who can say what, and how, and how loudly. All in secret — unless, of course, someone is videotaping.

photo credit: foqus, Creative Commons/flickr