Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Camera Access, Anti-SLAPP Laws Introduced in Congress

Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Camera Access, Anti-SLAPP Laws Introduced in Congress

Article excerpt

Michael Lambert

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer fielded a bevy of questions this fall during a whirlwind media tour promoting his new book, "The Court and the World."

Among the multitude of responses given by Breyer, he appeared to soften his once-fervent stance on cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court, at least forecasting that the court would one day allow electronic access.

"My prediction: We'll have cameras in the oral proceedings eventually." Breyer said Sept. 28 in an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Less than two weeks after Breyer's comment, members of Congress commenced a plan to make Breyer's prophecy occur sooner than expected by introducing the Eyes on the Court Act, a bipartisan bill requiring cameras to be permitted in the U.S. Supreme Court and all federal appellate courts. On the morning the bill was officially introduced, lawmakers and court transparency proponents rallied on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the bill.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with co-sponsors Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), are spearheading the bill to give the public access to Courts traditionally shielded from mass viewing.

"The Supreme Court is not some mystical, druidic priesthood that periodically deigns to review constitutional issues and hand down their wisdom from on high," Rep. Connolly said at the rally. "It is a human institution, a co-equal branch of government, and it is long overdue that the American public has better access to their highest court."

The Eyes on the Court Act (H.R. 3723), which has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, would allow the public and press to hold the judicial branch accountable and increase public discourse of an insulated branch of government.

Currently, all recording devices are forbidden inside the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the court releases audio recordings of oral arguments at the end of each argument week, and has released audio of arguments on the same day in exceptional circumstances.

Under the Eyes on the Court Act, live video recording of proceedings would be permitted unless the court determines the recording would violate the due process rights of a party.

The Eyes on the Court Act is the most recent attempt by Congress to allow access to court proceedings. Past efforts to pass laws allowing cameras in the court have failed to garner enough attention to advance past the committee stages.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has always barred cameras or recording devices, many federal courts and state courts currently allow broadcasting of proceedings.

"I know cameras can be placed in a courtroom without disruption because I was one of the first judges in Texas to allow cameras to film criminal cases," Rep. Poe said at the rally. "The American people deserve an all-access pass to watch the High Court rule on the law of the land."

All 50 state Supreme Courts allow some sort of camera accessibility. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit grants camera coverage in some proceedings, while the Ninth Circuit live streams its oral arguments online.

A pilot program that brought cameras to 14 U.S. District Courts beginning in 2011 concluded this past July. During the program, the courts published the proceedings online for the public to view. The Judicial Conference is expected to consider recommendations from the pilot program at its March 2016 session.

Advocates of the Eyes on the Court Act believe Congress has the authority to mandate cameras in the Supreme Court just as the legislative branch regulates other aspects of the judiciary. For example, Congress sets the number of Supreme Court justices, determines the start and end dates of the court's term, and approves the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Even though some current Supreme Court Justices appeared open to allowing cameras in the Supreme Court at their confirmation hearings, all nine Justices now seem unified in their opposition to cameras, citing pandering to the cameras by attorneys and Justices, apprehension that cameras will ruin the dignified aura of the Court, and fear that the public will misunderstand the judicial process. …

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