Policy

Cameras in High Court Bill Introduced

Senators Try Again to Open Public Court Proceedings to Public 6/20/2013 6:50 AM Eastern

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have re-introduced a bill, the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2013, to require that open proceedings of the Supreme Court be televised unless a majority of the court decides, on a case-by-case basis, that it would violate the due process of the parties.

The timing of the bill is pegged to some high-profile opinions expected out of the court any day now -- on affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act and gay marriage -- though the bill is more about televising the public oral arguments that lead to those opinions.

"Decisions made by the Supreme Court impact the lives of Americans in every corner of the country, but their proceedings often don't reach beyond the four walls of the court room," said Durbin in introducing the bill. "Over the next several days, the Supreme Court will announce opinions in some of the most closely watched cases in a generation. People of reasonable minds may disagree on the proper outcome of these cases and others, but we can all agree that the American public deserves the opportunity to see firsthand the arguments and opinions that will shape their society for years to come."

"The accountability, transparency and openness that this bill would create would help increase understanding of, and appreciation for, the highest court in the land and the decisions the court makes," Grassley said in a statement.  

They argue that public scrutiny will mean greater transparency and accountability, as well as a better understanding of the process. Also sponsoring the bill are Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Similar bills have been tried before -- the Senate Judiciary Committee approved similar bills in the last two Congresses, but failed to gain traction. There are concerns about separation of powers and some of the Justice's opposition based on the fear that arguments will be reported in sound bites and clips out of context.

“No matter how or why it happens, if television cameras are allowed to cover the Supreme Court’s oral arguments, C-SPAN  will be there to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of every minute,” said C-SPAN VP and general counsel Bruce Collins. “It is what we do better than anybody else.  This bill is another attempt to open up the Court by legislation.  If, despite long odds, it becomes law, we will be at the Court the next day to inaugurate a new era in Supreme Court journalism.”

C-SPAN has long pushed for allowing cameras in federal courts.

September