Proposed TV Coverage Of U.S. Supreme Court Supported

Jul 22, 2006

DURHAM, NC – The National Press Photographers Association’s president has asked news organizations and press associations in Alabama, Arizona, California, Oklahoma, and Utah to join NPPA in its call for Senate Judiciary Committee members to support SB 1768, Television Coverage of the Supreme Court’s Open Sessions.

“This bill is a critical step toward enhancing the public’s access to the courts,” NPPA president Tony Overman, of The Olympian in Olympia, WA, wrote in NPPA’s request. “Few Americans understand the way the Supreme Court works, let alone have the opportunity to view the proceedings of the court. We believe that the vision of the founding fathers for an open and public court is not currently realized in our federal court system. Nowhere close to the number of citizens affected by rulings have access to the court. In other areas of government, that gap is narrowed by full and open media coverage. We hope the same can happen now with the courts.”

U. S. Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts told federal judges and attorneys at a conference of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California last week that the country’s highest court is not interested in having its hearings televised, now or in the future.

''All of the justices view themselves as trustees of an extremely valuable institution,” Roberts told the group in quotes reported by the Associated Press. ''We're going to be very careful before we do anything that will have an adverse impact on that. We don't have oral arguments to show people, the public, how we function.''

Currently the Supreme Court only releases audio tapes of its hearings after the fact. There is no live coverage.

Due to significant technological advances, cameras can be unobtrusively placed in any courtroom. It is now possible for cameras to be mounted in a soundproof box and operated remotely so that the camera operator need not even be in the room. This is true with both television and still cameras. For example, at the Saddam Hussein trial in Iraq, a still camera is permanently mounted in a sound proof box and operated remotely from outside the courtroom. A similar arrangement can easily be set up for the Supreme Court.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who are opposed to the bill are Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

Numerous scholars and judges have expressed support for cameras in federal court. “This bill is a wonderful opportunity for the American media and for the American public. Please join us in supporting it,” Overman said.

For more information from the NPPA on this issue, please contact Overman at president@nppa.org, or NPPA executive director Greg Garneau at director@nppa.org, or NPPA’s Government and Media Relations Committee chairperson, attorney Mickey Osterreicher, at mickeyo@lawyer.com.