Sunshine in the Courtroom Act Sent To Senate (S. 410)

Senate Judiciary Committee refers measure to the Senate for consideration; measure would allow presiding judges in the Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeals and U.S. District Courts to “permit the photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting, or televising to the public of any court proceeding over which that judge presides,” subject to certain limitations, in S. 410, 112th Cong., 1st Sess. (2011)

Last week, on April 7, 2011, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out legislation (S. 410) which would “permit the photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting, or televising to the public of any court proceeding over which that judge presides.” See also 157 Cong. Rec. S908-09 (Feb. 17, 2011) (remarks of Sen. Grassley upon introduction).

Under the measure, in district court cases, any trial witness may request that their face and voice “be disguised or otherwise obscured in such manner as to render the witness unrecognizable to the broadcast audience of the trial proceeding,” unless the due process rights of a party would be violated. Additionally, the presiding judge has “the discretion to obscure the face and voice of an individual” upon a good cause showing that the electronic recording “would threaten -- (i) the safety of the individual; (ii) the security of the court; (iii) the integrity of future or ongoing law enforcement operations; or (iv) the interest of justice.” The legislation also recognizes circumstances in which no electronic recording is permitted. For example, no broadcast is permitted of “any juror in a trial proceeding, or of the jury selection process” nor of conferences between attorneys and clients and adverse counsel.

Judicial Conference Recent Action

As previously reported, on September 14, 2010, the Judicial Conference announced that it approved a pilot project “to evaluate the effect of cameras in federal district courtrooms and the public release of digital video recordings of some civil proceedings.” See Judicial Conference Approves Pilot Project To Evaluate Cameras In The Federal District Courts.

On March 29, 2011, the judicial branch announced that it was seeking courts to volunteer to participate in a three-year pilot program which would assess the recording of civil proceedings. In the announcement, the Chair of the Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM), U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson (D. Kan.) stated:

We encourage districts to participate in the pilot project. We especially want to ensure that judges who hold a range of views on the recording of courtroom proceedings will participate. It is important to the validity of this pilot to include the skeptical as well as the supportive. … We especially want to ensure that judges who hold a range of views on the recording of courtroom proceedings will participate.


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For more information, visit the Cameras And Electronic Devices In The Federal Courtroom Resource Page, which contains a library of documents including judicial conference policies, judicial guidelines, legislation and hearings, cases and other articles of interest. If you are aware of other information to add to the library, please contact us. Constructive comments are always welcome.

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