The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this March in one of the era’s most significant cases about the reach of the federal government: the constitutionality of the far-reaching changes in health care that President Barack Obama considers his signature achievement.

The ruling will determine the direction of health care for the nation and could influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. 

Only a privileged few, however, will be able to watch the Supreme Court argument about the legality of the individual mandate to all Americans to buy health insurance.

The time has come for the nine justices, who have life tenure and are anonymous to most of the public, to drop the court’s historic cloak of secrecy on a public process. 

The action should be televised. C-SPAN has requested permission to broadcast the oral argument in this one case live and distribute it to other media outlets. Such a new level of openness would serve the interests of the court and the nation and head off an improper attempt by Congress to pass a law demanding televised proceedings.

Cameras are routine in the tribunals of many nations and in state courts. There have been sporadic experiments with them in federal trial and appeals courts. Yet the nation’s highest tribunal has never offered an official reason for its arbitrary behavior in rejecting televising, though justices have expressed concerns that participants will play to the cameras or that hearings will be reduced to entertainment.

Those are losing — even arrogant — arguments to make to a sophisticated audience that expects and is entitled to witness public events crucial to their well-being and that of the nation.