The Senate Judiciary Committee met today to discuss seven pending bills, four of which have to do with open government.
The committee unanimously passed the Sunshine in Litigation Act of 2007 (S.2449) without any discussion or objections. The act seeks to restore accountability in the judicial system by restricting court secrecy on matters that impact public health and safety. It requires judges to perform a test to ensure that the defendant’s interest in secrecy truly outweighs the public interest.
The committee also passed S.352, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2007, which authorizes the presiding judge of a U.S. appellate court or U.S. district court to permit the photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting or televising to the public of court proceedings over which that judge presides.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a substitute amendment that would exclude the district court from the act. He stated that cameras in the Supreme Court and appellate court were important and necessary to open government, but had issue with television coverage of trial courts. He reiterated judiciary concerns that selective coverage could impact the trial.
Arguing against the amendment, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) emphasized that the judge will still have discretion at the district court level to oppose the televising of the proceedings if, for example, a juvenile is on trial or a witness needs protection.
Specter said, “I think that the public has as much a right to know what is transpiring in the district courts as in the Supreme and appellate courts.”
The amendment failed on a tie vote.
The committee passed off on discussion of the False Claims Act Correction Act of 2007 and the State Secrets Protection Act.