Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Measures Authorizing Cameras In The Supreme Court And Other Federal Courts

Further interest and progress is being on televising federal court proceedings; the Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reports out three measures to encourage and authorize the use of cameras in the federal courtroom

As we have noted, the issue of televising federal court proceedings has been considered in the Supreme Court and U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and Seventh Circuits. See Recent Action In Two Circuits Highlights Issue Of Cameras In The Federal Courtroom; Supreme Court Watch: No Broadcast Of Proposition 8 Bench Trial After Supreme Court Stay.

Last week, on April 29, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved three measures which would encourage and authorize the use of cameras in the federal courtroom:

Senate Judiciary Committee Action

  • Supreme Court Open Sessions: The committee passed legislation which would permit television coverage of all “open sessions” of the Supreme Court “unless the Court decides, by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court.” The measure, S. 446, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009), was introduced on February 13, 2009 by Senator Specter (D-PA). See S. 446, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009); see also 154 Cong. Rec. S2332-2336 (daily ed. Feb. 13, 2009) (remarks of Sen. Specter on introduction of S. 446). Similar legislation was introduced on January 9, 2009, by Representative Ted Poe (R-TX). See H.R. 429, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009).

  • Sense Of The Senate On Televising Supreme Court Proceedings: The Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reported out S. Res. 339, which provides:

“It is the sense of the Senate that the Supreme Court should permit live television coverage of all open sessions of the Court unless the Court decides, by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court.”

The measure, S. Res. 339, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009), had been introduced on November 5, 2009 by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA). See S. Res. 339, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009); see also 154 Cong. Rec. S11218-21 (daily ed. Nov. 5, 2009); Sen. Rep. No. 448, 110th Cong., 2d Sess. (Sept. 8, 2008) (reporting a measure to permit the televising of Supreme Court proceedings).


  • Federal Courtroom Proceedings: The Senate Judiciary Committee also reported out the “Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2009,” S. 657, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009), originally introduced by Senator Grassley (R-IA) on March 19, 2009, which would allow the presiding judge of a circuit or district court to allow the broadcasting of federal court proceedings. Under the legislation, the face or voice of an individual may be obscured based on a showing of a threat to safety or security concerns, “the integrity of future or ongoing law enforcement operations” or “the interest of justice.” The legislation prohibits the broadcasting “of any juror in a trial proceeding, or of the jury selection process” or conferences between counsel and their clients. No interlocutory appeals would be authorized concerning the “decision of the presiding judge” to broadcast a court proceeding. The measure contains a sunset provision for district court proceedings which would extinguish the statutory authority after three years. See S. 657, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009). A similar measure, H.R. 3054, was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 25, 2009, and remains pending in the House Judiciary Committee. See H.R. 3054, 111th Cong., 1st Sess. (2009).

These measures may next be considered by the full Senate.

State Practice

Many states allow cameras in the courtroom. See, e.g., Kansas Rule 1001 (Media Coverage of Judicial Proceedings); Mississippi Rules For Electronic And Photographic Coverage Of Judicial Proceedings; Some states, such as Michigan, use application forms for requesting broadcasting coverage. See, e.g.., Michigan Request And Notice For Film And Electronic Media Coverage Of Court Proceedings.

Other Reports and Materials

The subject of cameras in the courtroom has been the subject of congressional hearings and extensive discussion. For an overview of the issues raised by televised coverage of federal court proceedings, see:

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