Judicial conference votes down cameras in court
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Judicial Conference in late September voted 19 to 6 not to allow camera coverage of civil proceedings in federal appellate or trial courts after evaluating the results of an experimental program which began in July 1991.
The conference also voted not to amend Rule 53 of Federal Criminal Procedure, which would have lifted the absolute ban on camera coverage of criminal proceedings in federal courts.
The Conference is composed of 27 federal judges: the chief judge of each of the thirteen circuit courts, a district judge from twelve districts, the chief judge of the Court of International Trade, and chaired by Chief Justice of the U.S., William Rehnquist.
The Federal Judicial Center evaluated the pilot program for the period of July 1991 through June 1993. During the two-year period, 82 percent of all applications for camera coverage were granted, according to the center’s report. Judges and court staff reported that the guidelines governing the program were workable and that members of the media were cooperative overall.
Attitudes of judges toward camera coverage were initially neutral but became more favorable after experience under the pilot program, according to the Center’s report. Judges and attorneys involved in cases with camera coverage reported observing small or no effects of camera presence on participants in the proceedings, courtroom decorum or the administration of justice.
Despite the preponderance of positive feedback on the pilot program, the Judicial Conference hinged its decision to terminate the program on the possibility of harm to jurors and witnesses who appear on camera, according to conference spokesman David Sellers.
Although the judges acknowledged that the potential for harm is slim in a risk/benefit analysis, they decided that the potential was sufficient to warrant reinstating the prohibition on cameras in federal and district courts effective December 31.