Bill Opening Supreme Court to Cameras Heads to Senate Floor

The Supreme Court may soon have its own YouTube channel if the Senate gets its way.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday that would require the Supreme Court to televise its proceedings.

The measure, SB 1945, orders the Supreme Court to “permit television coverage of all open sessions of the court.” The bill, which now needs approval from the full Senate, allows a majority of the nine justices to override the legislation if a “particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of one or more of the parties before the court.”

One of the sponsors, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said he had been wanting such transparency in the court’s proceedings since 2000, when the court heard the Bush v. Gore case. The justices only release audio recordings of their oral arguments and transcripts of them.

Live witnesses include the media and the few hundred bystanders from the public that fill the gallery.

“That’s why this bill is necessary: It offers Americans access to the highest court in the land. According to a poll released last year, 62 percent of Americans believe that they hear too little about the workings of the Supreme Court, ” Grassley said. “Two-thirds of Americans want to know more. What could be a better source of the workings of the Supreme Court than the Supreme Court itself?”

Camera coverage generally is prohibited in the lower federal courts too, but is allowed in the federal appeals courts. Most states allow cameras in their trial courts.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) voted against sending the bill to the Senate floor. Josh Gerstein of Politico noted that “she feared showboating by lawyers and a slippery slope leading to a reprise of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.”

Next month the high court is to hear arguments on the Affordable Care Act, and several lawmakers, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), are asking the court to permit television broadcasting of the proceedings.

“Four days ago more than 111 million Americans watched the Super Bowl,” Leahy said. “No one would have tolerated that game being recorded and broadcast days later or its plays being transcribed and released at the end of the week.”

No vote date on the Senate floor was set. The measure also requires House approval before it would be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature or veto.

Photo: Courtesy of Supreme Court