Originally appeared at Slate.com on October 1,2012.


In a day when even our cellphones can capture images unobtrusively, why were we forced to stare at pixels on our computer screens or at a static televised image of the Supreme Court’s exterior? In 2012, why is there a wall of separation between the American people and their high court?

For decades, the debate over cameras in the court has gone something like this: the press pleads for permission and the court says no; academics make policy arguments that the court ignores; and Congress threatens to force cameras into the court, but the justices don’t blink. The argument remains deadlocked, with the justices insisting that they will not risk the integrity of the court until they can be certain of the effects and camera proponents arguing that it is impossible to know the effects until cameras are allowed inside.

Yet few people know that twice in the court’s history cameras did get in. It was stealthy and illicit, but two rogue photographers managed to capture what few have seen—the justices at work. And the resulting photographs give us a small glimpse of what we have been missing.