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senate Bill S. 643

Cameras in the Court: Should Federal Court Proceedings be Broadcast?

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.

John's Opinion
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07/03/2018
Our judicial system should be an open book. Transparency of our legal system can only ensure a better democratic process.
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Gregory's Opinion
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07/03/2018
I am in favor of the truth and transparency in the american justice systom
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Poli.Sci's Opinion
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07/03/2018
I support having cameras in the courtroom at the Federal level. These cases are cases that have already brought about public opinion and curiosity. If anyone wishes to sit and watch it, like those of us who sit and watch proceedings within Congressional Committees on CSPAN, then it should be encouraged to have courtrooms at the Federal level with cameras. This also allows students who are going for law degrees to witness a Federal court ruling or interaction without the need for driving to one. This ALSO encourages a better understanding of our Judicial system, as well as, the awareness of how the Constitutional Republic functions with the influence of democracy. It is all for the better. If someone wants to show off for the cameras, so be it.
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Argument opposed

Bringing cameras into courtrooms could affect the way that witnesses, judges, jurors, and prosecutors behave. It could publicly expose or endanger vulnerable witnesses and jurors.-

Shzeller's Opinion
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07/03/2018
I have very mixed feelings on this. There are pros and cons. My hope would be that more people would become involved in the judicial system and that people in the position of power will be forced to behave honorably under the watchful eye of society. That said, it could easily turn into a 3 ring circus where federal court cases become the new reality tv. If our lawyers and judges start preening and postulating for the cameras, fame and viewers could become their purpose. I think I have to vote No on this one.
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Mike's Opinion
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07/03/2018
Remember the OJ trial was televised and how they all played to the camera? A court room is a place for justice, not reality TV.
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Michael's Opinion
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07/03/2018
10 years ago I would have supported this for transparency. But with all the posturing and trying harder to play to (and manipulate) the masses, I think this would ultimately become a distraction. It’s bad enough the court of public opinion is able to ravage a person’s life as it is with the help of Big Brother media and Little Snitch camera phone operators. Now is not the time to make a spectacle out of our already-floundering justice system.
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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
    IntroducedMarch 15th, 2017

What is Senate Bill S. 643?

This bill — the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act — would allow the presiding judge (or a majority of an en banc panel) of a federal district or circuit court, or the U.S. Supreme 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. This bill 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.

This bill would sunset three years after its enactment, meaning authority for cameras to be in the courtroom would expire unless it’s reauthorized.

Impact

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. 643

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

More Information

In-Depth: Sponsoring Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced this bill to improve public access to the federal judiciary by granting judges the ability to allow cameras in federal courthouses:

“Our federal court system is a beacon of justice and fairness, and the implications of its decisions have resonated throughout American history. Yet, many Americans may never be able to witness this process firsthand. Video coverage of our courts can be a great learning tool for the American people and will contribute to a better understanding of and appreciation for the American judicial system. As C-SPAN’s coverage of the House and Senate has led to greater transparency of the legislative branch of government, opening up our federal courts to the public can also lead to improved transparency and accountability in the judiciary.”

This legislation has the support of 8 bipartisan cosponsors, including eight Democrats and two Republicans.

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, 2013, and 2015. Despite its repeated appearances, Congress has never been able to agree to a version of the bill that will pass.


Of Note: 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. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed skepticism that cameras are in the best interest of the judicial system, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg supports their presence.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: ftwitty / iStock)

AKA

Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2017

Official Title

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

    Our judicial system should be an open book. Transparency of our legal system can only ensure a better democratic process.
    Like (69)
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    I have very mixed feelings on this. There are pros and cons. My hope would be that more people would become involved in the judicial system and that people in the position of power will be forced to behave honorably under the watchful eye of society. That said, it could easily turn into a 3 ring circus where federal court cases become the new reality tv. If our lawyers and judges start preening and postulating for the cameras, fame and viewers could become their purpose. I think I have to vote No on this one.
    Like (83)
    Follow
    Share
    Remember the OJ trial was televised and how they all played to the camera? A court room is a place for justice, not reality TV.
    Like (48)
    Follow
    Share
    Live Stream Supreme Court hearings.
    Like (27)
    Follow
    Share
    I am in favor of the truth and transparency in the american justice systom
    Like (23)
    Follow
    Share
    I support having cameras in the courtroom at the Federal level. These cases are cases that have already brought about public opinion and curiosity. If anyone wishes to sit and watch it, like those of us who sit and watch proceedings within Congressional Committees on CSPAN, then it should be encouraged to have courtrooms at the Federal level with cameras. This also allows students who are going for law degrees to witness a Federal court ruling or interaction without the need for driving to one. This ALSO encourages a better understanding of our Judicial system, as well as, the awareness of how the Constitutional Republic functions with the influence of democracy. It is all for the better. If someone wants to show off for the cameras, so be it.
    Like (17)
    Follow
    Share
    10 years ago I would have supported this for transparency. But with all the posturing and trying harder to play to (and manipulate) the masses, I think this would ultimately become a distraction. It’s bad enough the court of public opinion is able to ravage a person’s life as it is with the help of Big Brother media and Little Snitch camera phone operators. Now is not the time to make a spectacle out of our already-floundering justice system.
    Like (13)
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    Share
    Though it may have the potential to become another tool of manipulation, it is still in the best interests of democracy to allow the public access to federal courts
    Like (10)
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    Court proceedings should always be private. The person’s innocence should always be at the forefront, even today in the ear of governmental corruption by Trump’s Bunch. If an innocent person is tried & the information in the trial could divide the public who don’t get ALL THE EVIDENCE and will not have a real understanding of that court process.
    Like (9)
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    No. This is ridiculous. I can see no reason to turn our courts into a reality TV show.
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    We have more important things to spend our money on right now. Put the money back in medicaid. Audit US police departments for White Nationalist moles. Deregulate and decriminalize pot. Shut down profit slave camps in the US. ALL these things are more important than cameras in courtrooms
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    I have been stunned to witness every -ism displayed on Courts. With public exposure many would be apt to reign in their darker sides and think about what they are doing. Not all—but many.
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    Really? People want to turn our department of justice into a judge Judy reality show? NO! Just No. The transcripts we already get are fine and if people want to watch a real courtroom they can go sit in court. There’s open audience seating there. There is no need for this. That branch is already transparent. Work on transparency in Congress and in campaign financing. That needs it a heck of a lot more.
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    This bill invites grandstanding and showmanship on the part of attorneys for the defense and prosecution. Some will see this as an opportunity to advance their careers. An individual’s rights to adequate representation and privacy are also issues that are not addressed satisfactorily. The Soviets and other authoritarian governments conducted “show trials.” Are we going to be the same? This bill is wrong in many ways.
    Like (4)
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    Cameras in the Courtroom ensures transparency of issues and allows independent opinions of the general public.
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    Without cameras at least its being judged in quasi fair surroundings. Allow the cameras in and you turn it into a lynch mob and trial by public opinion regardless the facts.
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    Not necessary
    Like (4)
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    Transparency is paramount. If you don’t believe that watch this bill fail.
    Like (4)
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    After watching Congressional hearings, I wanted to know what, whe,
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    Sounds good
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