Televising Supreme Court and Other Federal Court Proceedings: Legislation and Issues Page: 9 of 23
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The conference's position on televising court proceedings was reaffirmed on
May 25, 2006. In letters to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Specter and
certain other committee members, the Director of the Administrative Office of the
U.S. Courts expressed the conference's strong opposition to pending legislation, S.
829, because it would allow the use of cameras in federal trial proceedings. Its
opposition was based on concerns that broadcasting the court proceedings could have
an intimidating effect on litigants, witnesses, and jurors. In addition, the conference
stated its concern that some participants in the proceedings might grandstand, and
that the prospect of televising could also be used as a negotiating tactic in pretrial
settlement discussions (e.g., a party might choose not to exercise the right to go to
trial because the trial would be televised). The conference maintained that S. 829
could impair the fundamental right of citizens to a fair trial, and also could
undermine the safety of judges and trial participants. The conference further opposed
the legislation because it would change the current practice of leaving the decision
to be made by each court of appeals.
Legislation in the 109th Congress
In the 109th Congress, four bills (H.R. 2422, H.R. 4380, S. 829, and S. 1768)
have been introduced related to television or other electronic media coverage of
federal court proceedings. Another bill (H.R. 1751), as introduced, did not provide
for electronic media coverage of judicial proceedings, but was later amended to do
so. The five bills differ substantially regarding a number of issues, including which
courts are covered (just the Supreme Court or district and appellate courts as well),
the types of media that are included (just television or other types of media as well),
and whether the electronic media coverage is simply authorized (thereby leaving it
up to the individual courts to decide) or generally required. The five bills are similar,
or identical, to legislation introduced in previous Congresses since at least the 105th
code, and the policy on cameras in the courtroom was made a part of the Guide to Judiciary
Policies and Procedures (vol. I, chap. 3, part E). Under the guide, a judge may authorize
camera access to the courtroom during naturalization or other ceremonial proceedings.
Cameras may also be used be for limited purposes such as presentation of evidence, or for
security purposes (e.g., closed-circuit television).
23 Rep. Steve Chabot has sponsored legislation similar to H.R. 2422 (and Section 22 of H.R.
1751) in every Congress since the 105th Congress, although H.R. 1280 (in the 105th
Congress) did not include provisions to obscure the images, faces, and voices of witnesses
and/or jurors, which were included in some of the later versions. Sen. Charles E. Grassley
(with Sen. Charles E. Schumer) sponsored S. 829 (similar to H.R. 2422 and H.R. 1751). S.
829 is identical to other bills Sen. Grassley has sponsored in each of the past three
Congresses (since the 106E Congress). Sen. Arlen Specter sponsored legislation, S. 1768,
to require the televising of Supreme Court proceedings, which is identical to the bill he first
introduced in the 106E Congress (S. 3086). (Over 25 years ago, in the 96h Congress, Rep.
Frank J. Guarini, Jr., sponsored a resolution, H.Con.Res. 444, to express the sense of
Congress that the Supreme Court should televise its oral arguments to broaden the public's
access to them, but no action was taken on the resolution.)
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Televising Supreme Court and Other Federal Court Proceedings: Legislation and Issues, report, November 8, 2006; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc819885/m1/9/: accessed July 20, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.