Should cameras be allowed in oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court and other appellate courts?

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Cameras are not allowed in oral arguments before the Supreme Court. However, the question of whether or not they should be has been raised multiple times over the years, especially with growing social media.

Federal Law prohibits the use of cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53 generally prohibits cameras in federal criminal trial courts, and federal policy bans televised civil proceedings. The U.S. Supreme Court is famous for its dislike of cameras. Neither still nor video cameras are permitted in the U.S. Supreme Court. The 13 federal circuit courts of appeal each may decide whether to allow televised or other news media coverage of oral arguments. Judges in most state courts and federal courts of appeal generally permit cameras in the courtroom at least some of the time.”

Although cameras are not allowed in the Supreme Court that is not to say people don’t wish they were allowed.

In December 2011, Congressmen Gerry Connolly (D-VA) introduced a bill referred to as the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011. “Cameras in the courtroom would bring a higher degree of transparency and accountability to the high court, and would give the public better access to deliberations on the important issues that come before the court,” said Connolly. The bill was intended to permit television coverage of all open sessions of the court, unless the court decided through majority vote that the coverage would violate due process rights. The bill was introduced in a previous session of Congress, but was never enacted.

This was not the first time the idea of cameras in the Supreme Court was brought up and it certainly won’t be the last.

The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2015 was introduced by Congressmen Steve King (IA). The intention of the act was to, “authorize the presiding judge of a U.S. appellate court (including the Supreme Court) or U.S. district court to permit the photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting, or televising to the public of court proceedings over which that judge presides, except when such action would constitute a violation of the due process rights of any part.” This bill has yet to pass the House.

Since there is a ban of media in the Supreme Court, only 50 members of the public at a time are allowed to view court sessions in person.

With social media growing as well as the number of courtrooms allowing cameras, one would assume we are only a short period of time away from Supreme Court decisions allowing cameras.

“As other courts have increasingly let in cameras, open-government advocates have heightened calls for the Supreme Court to do so too. The justices, however, remain opposed to the idea.”

The Justices have given many different reasons over the years for banning cameras, including: “The Court needs to preserve its tradition; people will not understand the function of oral arguments; the media will use embarrassing sound bites; and cameras will encourage showboating.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor publically revered her position of supporting cameras in the courtroom in 2012. “I think the process could be more misleading than helpful,” she said.

“Supreme Court Justices continue to oppose cameras, voicing their strongest objections to broadcasting their own proceedings.” Among other reasoning, Justices believe there is more at risk in televising Supreme Court proceedings than to be gained.

Although cameras are allowed in some state courts, it would appear the tradition of cameras being banned in the Supreme Court will stand for now.

In an interview October of this year, Pete Williams of NBC News said, “don’t count on it in our lifetime,” when discussing cameras in the Supreme Court. However, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act has been presented more than once so it is expected that one day a bill will be passed to allow cameras in the U.S Supreme Court.

While the majority of justices appear to be opposed to cameras in the courtroom, it is safe to say that cameras in the courtroom will not be ruled out in the future.

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