Coalition Asks Senate To Pass Bill Allowing Cameras To Broadcast Supreme Court Arguments

October 28, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – A coalition of public interest advocates led by the American Civil Liberties Union, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Alliance for Justice sent a letter to the Senate today urging action on a bill that would allow television coverage of open Supreme Court proceedings. In the letter, the groups argue that broadcasting Supreme Court arguments would lead Americans to have a greater understanding of the justice system and the government overall.

The bill, S. 446, was introduced by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) early last year and was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in June on a bipartisan vote of approval.

“The Court decides too many questions of monumental importance to the American people to deny them the opportunity to observe its proceedings,” the groups said in the letter. “Even the majority of those who are able to visit the Court in person receive just three minutes to watch before they are shuffled out to make room for others waiting on line. The Court’s public-seating area accommodates only 300 visitors. Not surprisingly, most Americans increasingly favor television coverage of the Court.”

Though some oppose cameras in the courtroom because they believe broadcasting trials would distort the serious decision-making process of the courtroom, today’s letter challenges that argument by pointing out that the Supreme Court has no juries to expose nor any witnesses to intimidate. Further, S. 446 would allow for exceptions in any case that would violate the due process rights of any party. The groups also point out that cameras in the courtroom have been used without negative consequences in both the United Kingdom and Canada, which have allowed broadcasting of their highest courts’ arguments for years.

“Allowing cameras to broadcast Supreme Court arguments will bring a crucial part of our government’s proceedings to the vast majority of the American public for the first time,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Legislative Chief of Staff and First Amendment Counsel. “A democracy cannot thrive without transparency or an engaged public. This bill will help to educate our citizens about how our highest court operates and ensure that there is no branch of government that is inaccessible. This bipartisan bill should be passed swiftly by both the Senate and the House in the coming post-election session.”

The letter to the Senate can be found here:

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