Senate committee wants Supreme Court on TV

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The Senate Judiciary Committee passed two bills last week that would govern the televising of federal court proceedings, including Supreme Court oral arguments.

One bill would require all open sessions of the Supreme Court to be televised, unless the justices decide by majority vote that coverage of a particular case would violate the due process rights of one or more parties. The other allows federal judges to permit cameras into their courtrooms at their discretion, something currently not possible.

In introducing the Supreme Court bill last September, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) cited former Justice Felix Frankfurter’s desire to see more media attention paid to the Supreme Court.

Specter said Frankfurter had longed for a day when the news media "would cover the Supreme Court as thoroughly as it did the World Series, since the public confidence in the judiciary hinges on the public's perception of it, and that perception necessarily hinges on the media's portrayal of the legal system."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), echoed the theme in his own remarks. "Protected by a marble wall from public access, the Supreme Court has long been the least understood of the three branches of our federal government," he said.

The second bill, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2005, would permit -- but not mandate -- media coverage of proceedings in district courts, circuit courts and the Supreme Court. Witnesses would have the option of protecting their anonymity by disguising their faces and voices.

"Allowing cameras in the federal courtrooms is consistent with our Founding Fathers' intent that trials be held in front of as many people as choose to attend," Grassley said when he introduced that bill in April 2005.

The U.S. Judicial Conference would be responsible for fleshing out the guidelines of the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act.

At hearings last year, representatives from C-SPAN and Court TV expressed interest in televising proceedings if legislation is enacted.

There are no provisions in either bill regarding whether the coverage would be live or whether the public would have access to recorded footage at a later date.

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