Aren't the Supremes ready for their close-up?

Unless you waited in line for five days to get one of the coveted audience seats at the Supreme Court, you probably experienced this week's oral arguments on same-sex marriage as something of a Ken Burns film.

Websites and TV broadcasters played audio of the proceedings as cameras panned over drawings made by courtroom artists. The only thing missing was some kind of soundtrack, maybe a dulcimer plucking folkishly, for it to be worthy of a PBS pledge drive.

But if this treatment is evocative — or necessary, when a documentarian like Burns is working with a long-ago historical event such as, say, the Civil War or the early days of baseball — it seems downright archaic for something happening right now.

Somehow, at a time when we've come to expect real-time access to news events everywhere else, what happens in the Supreme Court remains largely away from public view.

Oral arguments are the one chance we have to see the justices at work. Their actual deliberations take place in papal-conclave-like privacy until they hash out a decision, only it's in a written legal opinion rather than a puff of smoke.

There is a part of me, I have to admit, that doesn't mind that some places remain beyond Twitter's reach. (No electronic devices are allowed in the courtroom.) To really get how the arguments went down, you have to read beyond 140 characters' worth anyway.

But that's why it's time to start letting cameras, or at least one of C-Span's unobtrusive cameras, into these hearings. Getting to see and hear, start to finish, the justices questioning attorneys on both sides seems invaluable, particularly given how the court is weighing in on many of the hot-button political issues of our times, from Obamacare to campaign financing to, now, same-sex marriage.

Instead, we rely on the random tweets and blog posts from observers who make their way out of the courtroom and back to their gadgets. Eventually, reporters will file stories, the court will issue audio and transcripts and, as for visuals, there will be those courtroom sketches.

Nothing against courtroom artists — they're actually quite amazing to watch, deadline Durers who rough out scenes and then run out of the courthouse to provide images for the TV reporters doing their noon or 6 p.m. stand-ups. I saw some artfully edited audio plus sketches that gave a good sense of the proceedings. I'm just surprised no one had be-robed impersonators at the ready to lip-sync as soon as the audio became available.

But this need to re-enact what's happening seems unnecessary when these are open hearings anyway.

There is a mystique that sets the justices apart from other officials — they aren't elected, they don't give press conferences explaining themselves. Maintaining this sort of distance, this sense of being above the fray, is fine, up to a certain point. This is, after all, the highest court of the land, not Carrie, Len and Bruno questioning the finer points of the cha-cha-cha.

But neither are they divine oracles with direct pipelines to the framers of the Constitution. They're public officials whose judgments have direct implications for our daily lives, and we should at least get a glimpse of their work before they head back behind the curtain.

As it is, justices seem much more public today than before — they write and promote books and appear as guests on TV shows. If not exactly celebrities, some are more recognizable than, say, most Cabinet secretaries. Chief Justice John Roberts' offhand comment to the cashier at a Starbucks this week that he was paying with cash rather than his usual plastic because someone stole his credit card number was widely reported.

In the past, justices have been quoted as saying they didn't think oral arguments should be televised because people wouldn't necessarily understand the proceedings, or could misconstrue the reasons behind their questions.

So what? People misunderstand things all the time; you can't really save them from themselves. The justices still get the last word in the written opinions they ultimately release.

Eventually, I think, cameras will find their way into their courtroom. If you're already providing audio and transcripts of the proceedings, adding the visuals isn't that big of a leap. The court does move at its own measured pace, though — it started taping oral arguments in 1955, according to its website, but until 2010 you had to wait until the next term to hear the audio from the previous one. Now the audio is available by the end of the week, although for the same-sex marriage arguments, the tapes of the morning's proceedings were expedited and made available by early afternoon.

There's always a fear that when cameras are introduced, simply by their presence, they'll change the course of an event or encourage participants to play to the audience.

But it's hard to imagine someone with less reason to play to a camera than a Supreme Court justice. They're already seated for life. Being a Supreme Court justice basically means never having to say you're sorry but instead — as Justice Antonin Scalia so memorably put it when a "60 Minutes" reporter asked him about the Bush v. Gore decision — "Get over it."

So c'mon, Supremes. I think you're more than ready for your close-up.

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