The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved bipartisan bills to require that Supreme Court hearings be televised and expand the use of television cameras in federal courts by wide margins, suggesting both bills may have a chance of passage on the Senate floor.
A bill to mandate television coverage in open sessions of the Supreme Court passed the committee 15-7, with four Republicans voting for it.
The bill allows the majority of justices – some of whom have balked at the idea – to turn the cameras off for cases where they rule that televising the proceedings would violate the due process rights of any of the parties before the court.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the committee and the bill’s primary GOP cosponsor, said allowing the public to watch the court’s proceedings would “get actual transparency and improve civic health.”
The committee also passed a bill 15-7 to allow federal judges, and the Supreme Court, to authorize television cameras in their courtrooms, bringing nationwide uniformity to rules that vary by court district.
That bill includes restrictions on the media’s ability to broadcast privileged conversations or jurors, and allows judges to place additional protections on the identities of witnesses and jurors.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who introduced that bill along with Grassley, argued there are “pretty important cases that happen in federal court,” while noting the various protections in the bill.
The Judicial Conference of the United States, which makes policies about the administration of federal courts, adopted a rule in 1972 banning “broadcasting, televising, recording or taking photographs in the courtroom.” Those rules have since been relaxed for federal courts, and the Supreme Court has also adapted to allow audio.
64%. That’s the share of voters who said the Supreme Court should televise its hearings in a CSPAN/PSB poll in 2018, while just 23% said they should not.
“I think these measures are well intended but I do think they’re ill advised,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said of the bills, arguing transparency is not “particularly lacking in our court systems” because the Supreme Court and federal courts release audio transcripts. Cotton warned video of hearings could be “taken out of context,” echoing the concerns of some justices.
“A majority of my court feels very strongly… televising our proceedings would change our collegial dynamic,” former Justice Anthony Kennedy warned former Sen. Arlen Specter, who tried and failed to pass a bill putting cameras in the Supreme Court, during a hearing in 2010. Forbes