The Supreme Court Ballot Case Made for Must-Hear TV

If you were to list the ingredients of riveting live television, you would probably not include still photos, empty TV studios and parsing the nuances between the nouns “office” and “officer.”

Thursday’s Supreme Court arguments over Colorado’s attempt to remove former President Donald J. Trump from the ballot on the grounds of insurrection had all of those. But the proceedings, carried via live audio on cable news, also had two essentials of must-watch (or -hear) TV: High stakes and novelty.

The stakes were clear, whether or not you could follow the dissection of the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment. There are few things as important in a democracy as the decision of who gets to run in the next presidential election, not to mention the responsibility, and the consequences, for attempting to overturn the previous one.

The broadcast was novel in more than one way. The Supreme Court only began livestreaming oral arguments in 2020, during the pandemic. Having such consequential arguments take over cable news for a full morning is a rarity.

What’s more, much of the coming election will turn on court cases involving Mr. Trump, and American TV audiences are likely to be kept outside the door. Cameras were mostly barred from his civil trials in defamation and fraud cases; current federal rules prohibit them in his coming Georgia election-interference case. (The Georgia case is supposed to be livestreamed, but it may not take place before November, and Mr. Trump’s lawyers have argued that he should not be tried at all if he wins the election.)

Thursday, in other words, was a rare chance for voters to experience a part of the Trump Legal Cinematic Universe for themselves, not through the analysis of pundits or the fulminations of the defendant. That alone made it a TV event.

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