Cameras Likely to Remain Off-Limits at SCOTUS

US Supreme CourtDespite strong bipartisan support among lawmakers for a bill to allow cameras in federal courtrooms – including the U.S. Supreme Court –  any change in policy for the nation’s highest court is likely a long way off, according to coverage in SCOTUSblog.

A House panel this week heard testimony that was largely favorable to the so-called Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, the latest proposal to permit cameras in federal courts. Supporters argued that allowing proceedings to be televised would give the public more insight into the judicial process and increase public confidence.  The lone opponent to testify, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, spoke on behalf of the Judicial Conference of the United States and argued that permitting cameras in courtrooms could jeopardize the safety of court personnel and infringe on a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

SCOTUSblog notes that even if the bill were eventually to pass, the possibility of  cameras being welcomed at the Supreme Court  is remote.  The bill would allow, but not require, the Chief Justice to authorize photography, videography and broadcasting of Court proceedings.  And with the Justices themselves expressing discomfort with the idea, a change in policy seems unlikely.

High Support in Poll for TV Cameras in U.S. Supreme Court

washington-supreme-court-building-washington-d-c-dc169A new public opinion poll found that almost three out of four Americans (74 percent) favor letting TV cameras into the U.S. Supreme Court for live broadcasts, and 71 percent support live online audiocasts of high court proceedings.

Nonetheless, the justices have resisted the idea of cameras in the courtroom for a long time, reported a Washington Post blog. It also discussed an appellate judge’s efforts to teach the public about courtroom proceedings when oral arguments before a panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were televised recently.

OH Chief Justice: Time for SCOTUS to Allow Cameras in the Court

More than 300 million Americans are affected by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, yet there are only 500 seats available for the public to watch the court’s proceedings. It’s time the justices listened to public opinion and allow cameras in the courtroom, argues Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

In an op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch, O’Connor writes that last month’s oral arguments concerning same-sex marriage illustrated that the “justices are lost in the 19th century when it comes to being open and transparent to the public they serve.”

Instead of watching the proceedings, we are left to speculate on the impending ruling and listen to “talking heads” analyze something they did not witness either, O’Connor says. (more…)

DOMA, Prop 8 Cases Reignite Debate on Cameras in the Supreme Court

Hundreds of people from across the country gathered at the Supreme Court this week as the justices heard oral arguments Tuesday and Wednesday on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. No more than a small handful of them were able to gain tickets to listen to the arguments.

The justices had an opportunity this week to educate the public on the inner workings of the court, and stream video of the arguments live. Instead, the justices remained “camera-shy,” releasing only an audio version of the arguments, says a Des Moines Register editorial.

Oral arguments are the only chance for Americans to get a glimpse into the court’s operations, but those are still restricted to the few people who manage to get a seat inside. The justices should take heed of the Iowa Supreme Court’s practice of live streaming oral arguments online, the editorial argues.

In 2008 when the Iowa Supreme Court heard the Varnum v. Brien case on same-sex marriage, the court allowed for extra public seating during arguments and distributed the video online. The U.S. Supreme Court should embrace this transparency, it states. (more…)

Justices Kennedy, Breyer Testify on Need for Court Funding

At a U.S. House appropriations subcommittee meeting Thursday, Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer raised concerns about the potentially devastating impact of across-the-board budget cuts on federal courts.

The two justices declared that cuts to funding would slow down the “resolution of civil and criminal cases,” according to Thomson Reuters News & Insight.

“For a few months we can get by with furloughs or shorter hours,” Kennedy said, but “in the long term it will be inconsistent.” The Blog of Legal Times says he told legislators that judges cannot “control” their workload of cases in an effort to save money. (more…)

Sotomayor now Hesitant About Cameras at Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has been supportive in the past about allowing the televising of oral arguments in the courtroom (see Gavel Grab), but now she seems to have changed her tone.

New York Magazine reported some excerpts of her comments this week when she appeared at an event promoting her memoir and was asked about cameras at the Supreme Court:

“There’s no other public official who is required by the nature of their work to completely explain to the public the basis of their decision.”

“Every Supreme Court decision is rendered with a majority opinion that goes carefully through the analysis of the case and why the end result was reached. Everyone fully explains their views. Looking at oral argument is not going to give you that explanation. Oral argument is the forum in which the judge plays devil’s advocate with lawyers.”


Senators Request Cameras for Health Care Ruling

The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Supreme Court to allow TV cameras in the courtroom for its ruling on the Affordable Care Act, saying the step would “bolster public confidence in our judicial system.”

Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, made the request in a letter dated Monday to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., according to a SCOTUSblog post.

The senators explained:

“Broadcasting the Court’s ruling would permit millions of citizens the opportunity to view what so few can from the court’s small and limited public gallery. Modern technology makes televising the proceedings simple and unobtrusive. A minimal number of cameras in the courtroom, which could be placed to be barely noticeable to all participants, would provide live coverage of what may be one of the most historic rulings of our time. We believe permitting the nation to watch the proceedings would bolster public confidence in our judicial system and in the decisions of the Court.”

Veteran Supreme Court observer Lyle Denniston, who wrote the blog post, did not offer much hope to advocates of cameras at the Supreme Court. “The Court has never allowed live TV coverage of any of its official proceedings, and the prospect that it would agree to do so in this instance seems remote at best,” he wrote.


Courtroom Cameras Requested for Health Care Ruling

Nearly 50 news media organizations sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., asking for TV cameras to be permitted in the courtroom when a Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act is announced.

“There is a strong interest nationwide in the Court’s opinion and any comments by a member of the Court that may accompany its announcement,” the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said in the letter,  signed by the media organizations, according to a Politico article. “Such access would allow the public to be informed of the Court’s ruling in a timely manner.”

Earlier this year, the court  declined a request from C-SPAN  to permit TV coverage of oral arguments over the constitutionality of the federal health care law (see Gavel Grab).

National TV Broadcast Requested for USS Cole Trial

Defense lawyers for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of masterminding al-Qaida’s 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, have asked for broadcast around the world of the Guantánamo death-penalty trial before a military commission.

In a first for a war court, according to a Miami Herald article, the attorneys asked for broadcasting the trial far beyond  closed-circuit broadcasts for audiences at Pentagon-controlled viewing rooms in suburban Washington, D.C. and Virginia, to broad national and international audiences.

Such broadcasts would permit members of the public to “decide for themselves if this is truly a legitimate proceeding entitled to respect as the prosecutor argues, or is it a sham, a kangaroo court as the defense and many observers suggest,” the lawyers argued in a brief.


Supporters of TV Cameras at High Court Persevere

Brian Lamb, who founded the C-SPAN public affairs network, lamented on his last day before retiring the Supreme Court’s reticence to allow TV cameras into its courtroom.

The Supreme Court declined a request from C-SPAN (see Gavel Grab) to permit TV coverage last week of oral arguments over the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the federal health care law.

Lamb told Politico, “As it stands now we have graphic artists sitting in there, characterizing what’s going on in the court… you have print journalists sitting in there writing down everything they say, you have transcripts that are online fairly soon after the session, you have an audio service… it’s almost like watching them on television, so why not the real thing?”

Journalist and columnist Jules Witcover, a longtime chronicler of American politics, agreed and quoted Lamb in a Chicago Tribune op-ed entitled, “Televise the Supreme Court.”

Witcover noted Lamb’s dismissal of concerns attributed to justices, that TV cameras and possible grandstanding for the cameras could change the nature of the court’s proceedings.