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senate Bill S. 405

Bringing Cameras into Federal Courts

Argument in favor

Allowing the broadcast of proceedings in federal courts would increase knowledge and interest in the judicial process. A more transparent courtroom guarantees the right to a public trial.

Argument opposed

Bringing cameras into courtrooms could affect the way that witnesses, judges, jurors, and prosecutors behave. It also raises the potential to publicly expose / endanger vulnerable witnesses and jurors.

bill Progress

  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedFebruary 28th, 2013

What is Senate Bill S. 405?

This bill would allow the judge of a U.S. appeals or district court to permit the photography, electronic recording, broadcasting, or televising of court proceedings to the public.

An exception to this would be made if doing so would violate the due process rights of a
party to the case (i.e. a plaintiff or defendant). The court would be required to disguise the voice and face of a witness who is not a party to the case by rendering their features unrecognizable to the broadcast audience. The presiding judge would be required to inform witnesses of their right to request their identities be disguised during testimony.

A judge could also obscure the face and voice of a witness if there is a good reason to believe that broadcasting their features could threaten:

  • The witness’ safety,

  • The security of the court.

  • The integrity of ongoing or future law enforcement operations.

  • The interest of justice.

Judges would be prohibited from allowing the broadcasting of any juror, or the jury selection process.

S. 405 would also prohibit the broadcasting of conferences between attorneys and their clients, or the attorneys and the presiding judge if the conferences are not a part of the official record of court proceedings.

The Judicial Conference of the United States would be required to set forth guidelines for judges to follow when obscuring vulnerable witnesses.

The district court’s authority under this bill would be terminated three years after the enactment of this bill. 


People interested in real-life court drama, parties to trials in federal court, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, judges, court employees, members of the media, the Judicial Conference, and federal district courts.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 405

$5.00 Million
A CBO cost estimate from the current session of Congress is unavailable. An estimate done during the 112th Congress when this bill was last introduced projected that implementing the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act would cost $5 million over the 2012-2016 period.

More Information


The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act has a relatively long history. It has been introduced in Congress in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. Despite its repeated appearances, Congress has never been able to agree to a version of the bill that will pass.

State courts have allowed cameras in their courtrooms since a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Chandler v. Florida, allowed them to do so in criminal trials. The American Bar Association Journal notes that the state supreme courts of all 50 states allow TV cameras, with varying restrictions.

Photography, recordings, and broadcasts on either TV or radio have been banned in federal courts since 1972. Since then, there have been pilot programs introduced in 1990 and in 2010 that made provisions to allow broadcasting and recording from federal courtrooms. After the 1990 pilot program concluded, the Judicial Conference recommended the ban continue, and that districts which had changed their rules during the pilot programs revert to camera-free courtrooms.

The current pilot program is authorized by the Judicial Conference, includes 14 federal courts, and all parties involved in a given case must agree to the use of cameras. Two current Supreme Court justices have opined on the issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed skepticism that cameras are in the best interest of the judicial system, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg supports the change.


Sponsoring Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) Press Release

CBO Cost Estimate - 112th Congress

History of Cameras in U.S. Courts

CBS Boston

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)


Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2013

Official Title

A bill to provide for media coverage of Federal court proceedings.

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