Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Bills To Bring Cameras Into Federal Courts

WASHINGTON, DC – When Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) wrote the prelude to a bill that would bring cameras and microphones into federal courts and permit televising of U.S. Supreme Court proceedings, he included a quote from United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) who once said that he longed for a day when, “The news media would cover the Supreme Court as thoroughly as it did the World Series, since the public confidence in the judiciary hinges on the public's perception of it, and that perception necessarily hinges on the media's portrayal of the legal system.”

The late Justice may soon have his wish come true. Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee passed two bills that would bring cameras and microphones into federal courts. Now in front of the full Senate for consideration, the bills call for radio and TV coverage of federal judicial proceedings. Specter’s 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.”

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.” RTNDA provided a sample letter to its members so that they can contact elected representatives to support the legislation.

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last November where she said that “Television and radio coverage would make the federal judicial system accessible to more citizens, enhance understanding of the judiciary, and foster greater trust.” She told the Committee that “RTNDA members have covered hundreds if not thousands of proceedings at the state level and that the presence of a camera has never resulted in a verdict being overturned. Even Iraqi officials allowed television coverage of the opening of the trial of Saddam Hussein,” she pointed out.