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Senators renew effort to allow cameras in federal courts

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Jun 6, 2001    

Senators renew effort to allow cameras in federal courts

  • If passed, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act would give judges discretion to permit cameras in the courtroom.

Federal judges could open their courtrooms to television cameras if a bill unveiled June 5 on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court becomes law.

The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, sponsored by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), would allow federal trial and appellate judges to permit cameras in the courtroom. The bill also would direct the Judicial Conference, the principal policy-making entity for the federal courts, to draft non-binding guidelines that judges can refer to in making decisions about coverage of specific cases.

The senators said the successful audiocast of Bush v. Gore at the Supreme Court last fall was evidence that televising federal trials would boost public understanding of the court system.

“The Supreme Court’s landmark decision to release an audio transcript in Bush v. Gore allowed millions of Americans to reach their own conclusions in one of the most important cases in American history,” said Schumer. “Allowing cameras in the courtroom would shine even more light on our judicial system, improving public understanding of the judicial process and increasing public scrutiny of our courts.”

Grassley said the bill has bipartisan support. He also pointed to a recent study indicating that many Americans cannot identify a Supreme Court justice and know little about the federal courts.

“The best way to maintain confidence and a better understanding of the judicial system, where the federal judiciary holds tremendous power, is to let the sunshine in by opening up the courtroom to public scrutiny through broadcasting.”

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) also attended the press conference and support the legislation.

Forty-nine states permit some form of audio-visual coverage in their courtrooms. At least 37 states directly televise trials. Grassley and Schumer cited studies showing that electronic media coverage of those trials has increased the public’s understanding of those courts without interfering with court proceedings.

CM

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