Should cameras be allowed in the Supreme Court?
March 26, 2014
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
In late February, a video of a courtroom was posted to YouTube. The video caused a ripple of an uproar over the next couple of days because it was taken in the Supreme Court chambers during oral arguments.
The video clip shows a protester who stood up and denounced the court’s Citizens United decision before security took him away. It is believed to be the first time that video of a Supreme Court proceeding has ever been recorded.
The Supreme Court prohibits all electronic devices inside the chambers. Reporters have limited access and can use only pen and paper in the chamber. Sketch artists are allowed to portray the public sessions. In 2010, the court began making audio recordings of all oral arguments heard by the court available free to the public on the court’s website.
Should the justices allow cameras?
In 2009, Sen. Arlen Specter tried to pass a bill to force the Supreme Court to allow television cameras during its open sessions, which anyone can attend.
The argument was made that courts are vital to our government and democracy and that government should be open for all to see to prevent corruption and misdoings. This idea comes from interpretations of the First Amendment that mandate that government operations should be open to the press and the public, unless security or privacy concerns exist.
Camera proponents argue that the Supreme Court makes decisions that affect us every day, from free speech rights in school to knowing your rights if arrested. Supporters of cameras say the oral arguments should be made in full view of the public.
All 50 states’ high courts allow some type of recording device inside the chambers, and a large percentage of federal courts allow television cameras, but the ruling judge has the final say so in determining whether specific cases should have cameras present. Proponents of cameras in the courtroom say that state high courts function fine with or without cameras.
The Supreme Court has a different view. In the 1965 case Estes v. Texas, the court said television coverage of the pretrial hearing, normally a closed event, prevented a fair trial and infringed on the defendant’s right to due process. The court cited concerns about the effect on jurors and the disruption by the large, intrusive camera equipment used at the time.
But in 1981, when TV equipment had become much smaller, the Supreme Court decided in Chandler v. Florida that cameras during a criminal trial did not infringe on the defendant’s Fourteen Amendment right to due process. The ruling allowed cameras, at the behest of the judge, if the cameras did not infringe on the rights of the accused.
Since Chandler v. Florida, the nation has seen a dramatic rise in the coverage of court cases. TV coverage of sensational criminal cases from O.J. Simpson to Jodi Arias has led some to argue that cameras in the Supreme Court chambers would lead to a media circus. Although the Supreme Courts only hears appeals, and there would be no testimony from witnesses or evidence introduced as in criminal trials.
The justices say that cameras would have a negative effect on the court process. Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy told Congress that the cameras would affect what the justices choose to say in court. “You think it won’t affect you, your questioning,” Justice Breyer said at a congressional hearing in March 2013. “The first time you see on prime-time television somebody taking a picture of you and really using it in a way that you think is completely unfair... in order to caricature [your position]... the first time you see that, you will watch a lot more carefully what you say.”
Justice Kennedy said that the cameras would add an “insidious dynamic” in the courtroom. Opponents say that lawyers – and perhaps even justices – would play to the TV audience and talk in sound bites and that selective coverage of oral arguments would offer a distorted view of the court.
What do you think?
Should the Supreme Court allow cameras in the court chambers? Is greater public access to the court’s proceedings important? Do you agree with the justices that TV coverage would distort the court’s work? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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