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Bill submmitted to televise Supreme Court proceedings

Thanks to sources within the court system Indiana Barrister was alerted to Senate bill 1768, authored by Sen. Arlen Specter, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would allow televising United States Supreme Court proceedings. The full text of the bill has not yet been posted online but Sen. Specter’s office has sent a copy to Indiana Barrister. It reads:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


(a) In General. — Chapter 45 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by inserting at the end the following: “§678. Televising Supreme Court proceedings

“The Supreme Court shall permit television coverage of all open sessions of the Court unless the Court decides, by a vote of the majority of justices, that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of 1 or more of the parties before the Court.”.

(b) Clerical Amendment. — The chapter analysis for chapter 45 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by inserting at the end the following:

“678. Televising Supreme Court proceedings.”.

The Library of Congress’ Bill Summary & Status lists six co-sponsors in addition to Sen. Specter: Sen Allen (R-VA), Sen Cornyn (R-TX), Sen Feingold (D-WI), Sen Grassley (R-IA), Sen Leahy (D-VT), and Sen Schumer (D-NY). All sponsors are members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee. You can read Sen. Specter’s statement in support of the bill here (pdf), where he speaks for himself and the co-sponsors.

In Chandler v. Florida, 449 U.S. 560 (1981), the Supreme Court unanimously called for experimentation with TV in the courtroom. The Court held for the first time that television in the courtroom was not per se unconstitutional. Under Chandler a defendant would only be entitled to show why, in his particular case, television coverage was prejudicial. In Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohen, 420 U.S. 469, 491-92 (1975), the Supreme Court observed that in our modern society, few can take the time to see trials first-hand. Accordingly, the Court noted that the media must serve as the public’s surrogate in effectuating the public’s right to know.

Nevertheless, the experimentation called for in Chandler has typically only applied to state courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has been adamant in refusing to allow the televising of trials or appeals. Until recently, the Justices did not even allow the live audio broadcasting of arguments, though they did permit archival audiotaping. In the landmark case of Bush v. Gore — the case that effectively ended the Presidential election of 2000 — the Justices finally relented and permitted the real time audio transmission of the final arguments. Still, television has not been permitted in the high court. For more background on the issue Elizabeth McKee has penned an instructive article titled, “Banning Television Cameras From the American Courtroom” (pdf).

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