Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘Courtroom Cameras’ Category

NY Times Urges High Court to Televise Health Care Arguments

A New York Times editorial today is urging the Supreme Court to allow C-SPAN to broadcast live arguments in the case challenging the new federal health care law.

The editorial comes just days after C-SPAN and members of Congress called on Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. to open the court to cameras for an expected 5 ½ hours of arguments scheduled for March.

The editorial notes that the time allotment for the case vastly exceeds the usual one hour spent on arguments for other cases, making video integral to the public’s ability to follow the proceedings.

“While the court provides transcripts of arguments on its Web site and posts audio recordings weekly, those are not equivalent to seeing justices ask questions and the lawyers respond live. For a case this important, the justices would serve the public and the court by allowing cameras at the arguments,” the editorial says.

To learn more about cameras in the courtroom, see Gavel Grab.

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Pelosi, Grassley Seek Televising of Health Care Arguments

Sen. Charles Grassley and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi took the same side amidst a new push to allow cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court health care law hearing.

Senator Grassley, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, authored legislation in 1999 to allow cameras in federal courts. On Tuesday, he sent a letter to the Supreme Court urging that the health care arguments be televised, reports Fox News:

“Cameras in federal courtrooms are at the very heart of an open and transparent government … Broadcasting the health care reform law proceedings would not only contribute to the public’s understanding of America’s judicial system, but provide an excellent educational opportunity on a case that has the potential to have a far-reaching impact on every American.”

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C-SPAN Asks to Televise Court's Health Care Arguments

C-SPAN is asking the Supreme Court to open its doors to TV cameras — and millions of viewers — when the court hears in March a challenge to the new federal health care law.

“We believe the public interest is best served by live television coverage of this particular oral argument,” Brian P. Lamb, C-SPAN’s chief executive, wrote to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., according to a Los Angeles Times article. “It is a case which will affect every American’s life, our economy and will certainly be an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.”

The high court has steadfastly refused over past years to allow televising of its oral arguments. A public affairs network, C-SPAN has broadcast proceedings in the House of Representatives and Senate chambers since the 1980s. To learn more about the Supreme Court and cameras in the courtroom, see Gavel Grab.

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Essay: TV Would Boost, Not Lower, High Court's Stature

In a new essay, veteran Supreme Court watcher Tony Mauro dissects the “myth of Supreme Court exceptionalism” and finds it wanting as a reason for barring TV cameras in the nation’s highest courtroom.

Mauro’s commentary in The National Law Journal is entitled “Let the Cameras Roll.” The Supreme Court, unlike almost every other public institution, Mauro writes, has resisted for years the ”successive winds of change brought by radio, television and the Internet” while relying on a myth that it is unique.

“We operate on a different time line, a different chronology. We speak a different grammar,” Justice Anthony Kennedy responded to members of Congress who had asked about lifting the camera ban.

When the high court’s work is so largely hidden from public view, “[T]he Court is allowed to deprive the public of an educational feast,” Mauro maintains. He argues that the court’s view of its uniqueness doesn’t justify a courtroom camera ban:

“Although cameras might, and probably do, distort the behavior of elected officials bent on pleasing their constituents, they should have little negative effect on contemplative, life-tenured judges who insist they are apolitical. If they are truly independent and different, one would think that Supreme Court justices should be uniquely inattentive to the presence of cameras and should be able to carry on undisturbed.

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Justices Scalia, Breyer Testify Before Senate Panel

Americans “should learn to love gridlock” from Washington, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, because the framers of the Constitution made it possible.

“The framers would say, yes, ‘That’s exactly the way we set it up. We wanted power contradicting power (to prevent) an excess of legislation,’ ” Justice Scalia said, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

Justices Scalia and Stephen G. Breyer discussed the role of justices, and their own thoughts on the Constitution and the law, in a rare appearance by justices before the panel. It was scheduled to coincide with the recent observance of Constitution Day.

On related topics:

  • Justice Breyer was asked whether justices should be required to follow the Judicial Conference Code of Conduct, according to a New York Times article.  “Every asset has to be listed in depth, and it’s all filed,” he replied. “I don’t think that the life of the judge in terms of ethics is less restrictive than the life of any other member of the government.” Read more

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Public May See Prop 8 Trial Video, Judge Rules

U.S. District Judge James Ware has ruled that the public may view video of the 12-day trial in San Francisco last year over the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, called Proposition 8.

“Foremost among the aspects of the federal judicial system that foster public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the process are public access to trials and public access to the record of judicial proceedings,” Judge Ware wrote, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article.

Then-Judge Vaughn Walker struck down the ban. Ahead of the trial, Judge Walker said he would permit court-operated cameras in his courtroom for the proceedings, and video could be released on a delayed basis on YouTube, but the U.S. Supreme Court pulled the plug on that idea in a 5-4 ruling (see Gavel Grab).

In the dispute decided this week, foes of Proposition 8 urged unsealing of the video recordings, while proponents of the ban argued that the Supreme Court decision extended to release of the video.

Judge Ware concluded that because the trial was past, the Supreme Court ruling did not give compelling reasons to deny public access to the video.


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Cameras Roll as Pennsylvania Court Launches New Era

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week that will make history not for their subject, but for their transparency.

With cameras rolling for subsequent broadcast on cable TV, the high court opened a new era of judicial transparency, a Philadelphia Inquirer article reported.

The court held session at Old City Hall, where the U.S. Supreme Court met between 1791 and 1800. Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said viewers might want to think about watching the broadcast with a “strong cup of coffee” to get through the arguments, and he hoped they would be enlightened about the court and the law.

Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said recording and later broadcasting of the oral arguments would help citizens see the courts in action. ”It’s very important to learn how they function,” she said. PMC is a Justice at Stake partner group.


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Iowa High Court Tries New Tools for Greater Openness

With an eye on better informing the public about how judges work, Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady is discussing a variety of tools to bring greater openness to the state Supreme Court.

Since voters dumped three Iowa justices in a retention election last year, Justice Cady has stressed the importance of educating the public about the role of the justices and the judiciary. He has said this education is the key to fighting politicization of the court system (see Gavel Grab).

The Iowa Supreme Court recently began live-streaming its oral arguments to the public, with some positive feedback from viewers resulting, Justice  Cady said. As reported by an Eastern Iowa News Now article, he also said the judiciary also is considering ways to use Twitter and Facebook for greater public access.

As a result of the 2010 election, the judicial branch realized it needed to do more to teach citizens about the work of the courts and the way judges rule according to the law, Justice Cady notes. He explains:

“Judges have the latitude to campaign, but I think we should think long and hard about the direction of how we should go.”

“We definitely should be open and accessible and I think people will gain a respect and understanding for the process and how the judges make those tough decisions they must every day – not how others want to portray us as arrogant or elitist. I think Iowans want a fair and independent court system.” Read more

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to let Pennsylvania Cable Network videotape oral arguments before the court, starting Sept. 13, according to an Associated Press article.
  • Discussing the court funding crisis, outgoing ABA President Stephen Zack said, “The problem is people think the court is for troublemakers,” according to the Blog of Legal Times.  ”The truth is there are millions of dollars tied up in the court that business could be using to create new technology and jobs. This is a universal issue.”
  • Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy likely will be the two Republican appointees to decide the fate of President Obama’s health care reform law, according to an analysis by Reuters.

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Nevada Supreme Court has issued revised rules for electronic coverage of court proceedings, according to a Las Vegas Sun article. The court’s order is available here.
  • In Tennessee, 33 people have applied for an open seat on the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, according to an Associated Press article that also linked to their applications.
  • Former Federal Election Commission chairman Trevor Potter discusses campaign finance law, disclosure, Citizens United and the impact of  Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement in an interview with the Open Secrets blog.

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