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Senator renews effort to televise high court proceedings

By Melanie Bengtson
First Amendment Center Online intern
02.09.07

Renewing his fight to bring more openness to the Supreme Court, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., re-introduced a bill late last month that would allow high court proceedings to be televised for the first time.

Co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Charles Grassley (Iowa) and John Cornyn (Tex.) and Democrats Richard Durbin (Ill.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Russ Feingold (Wis.), the legislation, S. 344, would allow cameras in all open sessions unless a majority of the justices said the coverage would violate the due-process rights of a party before the Court.

Specter is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Its chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is the co-sponsor of a similar bill for federal trial and appellate courts. Leahy’s bill, called the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2007 (S. 352), would give the justices the ability to choose whether the news media could cover a trial. That bill, introduced on Jan. 22 by Grassley and Schumer, would allow the presiding justice to permit the photographing, recording, broadcasting or televising of a trial unless it would interfere with due process.

“Anything that will help the people see how their courtrooms work … is beneficial for the public good,” said Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

“The issue is not media access, but that the public be allowed to see what goes on in the courtroom,” Leslie said.

In 2005, when he chaired the Judiciary Committee, Specter sponsored a hearing on allowing cameras in the courtroom.

During their respective confirmations, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito both responded positively to questions about allowing the news media into the Supreme Court. Roberts said he would keep an open mind to the possibility while Alito reminded the senators that as a circuit judge he voted to allow televised proceedings.

Melanie Bengtson is an intern at the First Amendment Center and a sophomore studying developmental politics at Belmont University.


Update
Senate panel endorses cameras in federal courts
Bill, which now heads to chamber floor, would allow televised proceedings — including those in Supreme Court — except in certain circumstances. 03.07.08

Related

Senate committee OKs TV in Supreme Court

Hearings could be televised under bill approved in Judiciary Committee; second bill would allow cameras in federal courts. 03.31.06

2 justices say high court no place for TV cameras
Clarence Thomas tells House panel that coverage could undermine how justices consider cases; Anthony Kennedy says camera decision is Court's business. 04.06.06

Roberts moving Court in more media-friendly direction
Some justices have been popping up in unusual places — including network TV news programs — and talking about more than just the law. 12.27.06

Justice Kennedy to Congress: Don't allow cameras in high court
Meanwhile, several federal judges tell American Bar Association meeting that televising controversial trials would have benefited public. 02.15.07

Justice Alito: Few would watch high court arguments on TV
Meanwhile, newest justice forbids television, radio reporters from recording his remarks at the University of Virginia for broadcast. 10.22.07

Congress moves closer to allowing cameras in federal courts
By Tony Mauro Despite Supreme Court justices' long-standing unease over cameras, lawmakers think time may be right. 11.11.05

It's time to let public tune in the voices of the Supreme Court
By Ronald K.L. Collins Justices have slowly moved toward more-open proceedings; airing oral arguments on radio would be good next step. 03.15.07

Cameras in the courtroom


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