WASHINGTON — Supreme Court hearings could be shown on TV under a bill approved by a Senate committee yesterday but opposed by some high court justices.
Two bills that, if they became law, would allow more federal court proceedings to be televised moved a step forward in the Judiciary Committee.
One, S. 1768, which passed 12-6, would require the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of all open sessions unless a majority of the justices decide that coverage in a particular case would violate the due process rights of a party before the court.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said the Supreme Court becomes a "super-legislature" when it decides far-reaching public-policy questions, and should make its proceedings more accessible.
"The public has a right to know what the Supreme Court is doing," Specter, R-Pa., said.
The proposal, long opposed by some justices and interest groups, gained new life last year when Chief Justice John Roberts said during his confirmation hearings that he would keep an open mind on the question of cameras in courts.
Two sitting justices, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen Breyer, and former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, left no doubt about their opposition to cameras in the high court during an American Bar Association event in November.
Several justices have said they were troubled by the televised O.J. Simpson trial a decade ago.
Another sitting justice was more blunt: "The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it's going to roll over my dead body," Justice David Souter told a congressional panel in 1996.
Though some states allow some camera coverage of court proceedings, cameras are forbidden in federal district courts. Federal appeals courts have varying policies. Resistance has been stiffest in the Supreme Court, where reporters are prohibited from bringing any recording device into the room where the nine justices hear arguments in about 80 cases a year.
A second bill, sponsored by Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would allow federal trial and appellate judges to permit cameras in the courtroom. The measure, S. 829, passed the panel 10-6.