From the Spring 2006 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 22.
If U.S. Supreme Court justices want to use research in the search for guidance on camera coverage, they might be disappointed in the lack of depth of studies on the issue.
Most such studies focus on cameras’ effects on jurors and witnesses. The Supreme Court, of course, has neither. No research seems to focus solely on the effects of camera coverage on appellate arguments.
The study most often cited by those on both sides of the debate was conducted by the Judicial Conference between 1990 and 1993. During that three-year trial period, camera coverage was permitted in civil proceedings in eight federal district and appellate courts: the U.S. Courts of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) and San Francisco (9th Cir.), and U.S. District Courts in southern Indiana, Massachusetts, eastern Michigan, southern New York, eastern Pennsylvania and western Washington.
Although most of the study dealt with the effects of cameras on juries and witnesses, it also explored cameras’ effects on 24 appellate proceedings. Of the 51 appellate judges who participated in the experiment, 34 — 67 percent — responded to surveys before and after the introduction of cameras.
Most of the judges said their opinions were not changed by the pilot program and their overall attitudes toward coverage — before and after the experiment — were favorable, the study said. Most said cameras affected things such as attorney preparation and grandstanding either “to little or no extent” or “to some extent.” Most said the same things about judges’ attentiveness during oral arguments, their courteousness during questioning and the overall disruption of court proceedings. Only 4 percent of judges surveyed said cameras disrupted courtroom proceedings “to a great extent.”
When the study committee issued its recommendations in 1994, it favored authorizing judges to allow camera access in civil proceedings. However, the conference as a whole rejected that recommendation, voting by a 2-1 margin not to allow cameras. The conference rejected the idea again in 1996, but also voted to allow cameras in federal appellate courts at the discretion of the bench in each circuit.
Since then, only two federal appellate court panels, in New York and San Francisco, have ever decided to allow camera coverage of a hearing.
Last November, U.S. Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain of the U.S. appellate court in San Francisco told the Senate Judiciary Committee that between 1991 and November 2005, his court logged 205 requests to allow media into oral arguments, O’Scannlain said. Of those, 133 were granted.
The requests amounted to fewer than 1 percent of the cases heard in oral arguments, he said.
Concerns that cameras might encourage attorneys or judges to grandstand proved largely unfounded, O’Scannlain told the committee. Overall, the judge called his experience with cameras “overwhelmingly positive.” He recommended that other federal appellate courts follow the examples of the Ninth and Second circuits. — AB