Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Cameras in the Courtroom in the Twenty-First Century: The U.S. Supreme Court Learning from Abroad?

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Cameras in the Courtroom in the Twenty-First Century: The U.S. Supreme Court Learning from Abroad?

Article excerpt


The ongoing revolution in the communication technology of the twenty-first century has had little effect on the U.S. federal courts in general and on the Supreme Court of the United States in particular. The Supreme Court has never allowed cameras into its courtroom or live broadcasts of its oral arguments. 1 Rather, oral arguments are audiotaped by the Court for release on Fridays during the weeks the Court hears the arguments.2

A recent example of the Supreme Court's "exceptional" aversion to cameras3 is related to the Court's rejection of the news media's request to televise oral arguments in the healthcare law case of 2012, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.4 On March 16, 2012, the Supreme Court evaded the media's broadcasting request altogether, announcing the availability of only audio recordings: "Because of the extraordinary public interest in those cases, the Court will provide the audio recordings and transcripts of the oral arguments on an expedited basis through the Court's Website."5

The U.S. Supreme Court's widely discussed hostility to television cameras6 contrasts sharply with the Canadian Supreme Court's extensive experience with its hearings being broadcast. In a speech made in September of 2011, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Canadian Supreme Court noted the "very expansive" television broadcasting of her court hearings since the mid-1990s.7 She added that the Canadian Supreme Court started webcasting the video streams of the court hearings live on the court's website in 2009. 8

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is also more camerafriendly than its U.S. counterpart. The U.K. Supreme Court has allowed its hearings to be broadcast since its opening in October 20099 to replace the House of Lords.10 Televised hearings were made possible through Section 47 of the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005, u which provides for an exemption to the Criminal Justice Act of 1925 12 that bans the photographing, filming, and sketching of court proceedings in England.13

Brazil, "a vibrant democracy" with an "extremely active" judicial branch,14 is one of the most open judicial systems when it comes to the broadcast media's access to its highest court: all judicial and administrative meetings of the Supreme Court have been broadcast live on television since 2002. 15 TV Justiça (Justice TV) and Radio Justiça (Justice Radio), which are operated by the Supreme Court of Brazil, enable the public and the news media to access that court's proceedings via wireless Internet networks on judgment days.16

South Korea is not one of the most camera-ready court systems, although its constitution states: "Trials and decisions of the courts shall be open to the public."17 Nonetheless, in some circumstances where an exception to its norm and practice is warranted, the Constitutional Court of Korea is more willing to be open to the public via the electronic media than the U.S. Supreme Court. When the Constitutional Court announced its ruling on the impeachment of President Roh Moo Hyun in May 2004, 18 for instance, its decision was read live on national television by the President of the Constitutional Court.19 A noted media attorney in Korea, Sang-woon Ann, has cautioned, however, that the television broadcasting of the Constitutional Court's impeachment judgment was so exceptional an event in the judicial history of Korea that it should not be viewed as precedent-setting.20

Given that the debate about whether to allow or disallow cameras in the courtroom has been "a global issue"21 for years,22 it is more relevant now than ever to place our understanding of the U.S. Supreme Court in a comparative context. Significantly, in 2011 Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. of the U.S. Supreme Court, in response to a question about cameras in the Court, described the Court as "different, not only domestically but in terms of its impact worldwide."23

This Article examines access to judicial proceedings from an international and comparative perspective by focusing on why and how the Supreme Court of the United States is different from those of England, Canada, and Brazil and from several international criminal courts and regional human rights courts. …

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