Supreme Court Doesn't Want TV, Radio, Coverage

Apr 5, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC – Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee passed two bills that would bring cameras and microphones into federal courts, but today on Capitol Hill two Supreme Court justices expressed their opinion that cameras are fine in the Senate and in the House – just not in the nation's highest court.

Now in front of the full Senate for consideration, the two bills call for radio and TV coverage of federal judicial proceedings. But Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, testifying today before a House Appropriations panel meeting to consider the Court's funding for the next fiscal year, indicated that they are not really interested in changing the way they do business with the media.

The Associated Press quotes Justice Thomas as telling the panel that allowing television and radio coverage of the high court, "Runs the risk of undermining the manner in which we consider the cases. Certainly it will change our proceedings. And I don't think for the better."

Justice Kennedy told the panel that he thinks the decision is one for the court to make for itself, not the business of Congress. "We've always taken the position and decided cases that it's not for the court to tell the Congress how to conduct its proceedings. We feel very strongly that this matter should be left to the courts. We have a dynamic that's different than yours: not better, not worse, but different," AP reported. "By having no cameras, we teach that our Court has a different dynamic." Kennedy's use of the phrase "we" implies that he's speaking for the entire court.

One bill, S. 1768, requires the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of its open sessions “unless it decides by a vote of the majority of Justices that allowing such coverage in a particular case would violate the due process rights of one or more of the parties involved in the matter.” It was introduced by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA).

The second bill, S. 829, named the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2005, would give federal judges the discretion to permit audiovisual coverage of proceedings on a case-by-case basis under a three-year pilot program.

Both bills have been supported and encouraged by the Radio Television News Directors Association. RTNDA representatives have testified before House and Senate committees on the proposed legislation, calling for the need to “open up the third branch of government to radio and television coverage.”