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Senate bill would allow cameras in federal courtrooms

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         April 25, 2005    

Senate bill would allow cameras in federal courtrooms

  • Federal judges would have the discretion to allow cameras and other recording devices in courtrooms under a renewed effort by senators.

April 25, 2005 — Journalists covering federal trials could be allowed to use cameras and other recording devices now banned in the federal courts under a bill introduced April 18 by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

The “Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2005” would give full discretion to the presiding judge of a case as to whether cameras or recording devices would be allowed during proceedings in federal trial and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. In appellate courts — where three-judge panels most often hear cases — the most senior active judge would have discretion, under the bill.

“I believe that the First Amendment requires that court proceedings be open to the public, and by extension, the news media,” Grassley said on the Senate floor. “The sun needs to shine in on the federal courts. . . . There are many benefits and no substantial detrimental effects to allowing greater public access to the inner workings of our federal courts.”

Grassley and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of 10 co-sponsors of the bill, proposed similar legislation in 2001 and 2003.

If passed, it’s unlikely that the nation’s highest court would allow cameras and other recording devices into the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1996, Supreme Court Justice David Souter told a congressional subcommittee, “I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

At least three of his colleagues on the high court agree. Justices Stephen Breyer, Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia spoke against allowing cameras into the U.S. Supreme Court during a rare public appearance Thursday at the National Archives.

“For every one person who sees it . . . gavel to gavel so that they can really understand what the court is about . . . 10,000 will see 15-second takeouts on network news which I guarantee you will be uncharacteristic of what the court does,” Scalia said according to NBC.

Breyer hinted at subtle change in the court. “First go with the audio, and be very cautious. I think that would be my point of view,” NBC reported he said.

Grassely’s bill also would give witnesses the option to “be disguised or otherwise obscured in such manner as to render the witness unrecognizable to the broadcast audience.”

The bill’s other sponsors are Sens. George Allen (R-Va.), Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

(S. 829 IS, Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2005)AB

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