Next Monday morning’s courtroom arguments in the challenge to Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration could end up being historic for reasons having nothing to do with immigration policy.  More than a dozen television networks have sought and been granted permission to tape the proceedings.  Most will broadcast them on a delayed basis, while C-SPAN will offer live coverage, and the court will stream live video to selected law schools. 

The case, United States v. Arizona, will be argued orally on November 1 before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.  A federal district court in Phoenix struck down the new Arizona statute in July, agreeing with the Obama Administration that the statute is preempted by federal immigration law.  Arizona appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit, supported by amicus curiae Washington Legal Foundation. 

Federal court proceedings are seldom televised.  The U.S. Supreme Court has never permitted its oral arguments to be videotaped, and cameras in the lower federal courts are only slightly more common.  The Justices’ biggest objection to allowing cameras is that judges and lawyers might play to the camera instead of focusing on the legal issues in dispute. 

Next Monday’s argument may provide a good test of that theory.  The proceedings will likely be witnessed by a huge audience, at least in comparison to audiences for more typical, less controversial legal proceedings.  If participants seem intent on speaking in sound bites (thereby assuring themselves a place on the evening news), that would tend to give credence to the Justices’ concerns.  But if the proceedings stick to the low-key legal discussions one usually finds in an appellate court, then perhaps recalcitrant Supreme Court Justices ought to begin to reconsider their deep-seated aversions to cameras.