New Legislation for Cameras in Courtroom

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Pointing to the Supreme Court audio cast of Bush vs. Gore last winter as the
first step toward live coverage of federal trials, a group of lawmakers renewed
their push to allow cameras in courtrooms.

Strongly opposed by the Supreme Court, the legislation, dubbed the Sunshine
in the Courtroom Act, would allow federal trial and appellate judges to permit
cameras in their courtrooms at their own discretion.

The bill, nearly identical to legislation introduced two years ago, would
also direct the Judicial Conference -- the principal policy-making body for
federal courts, which has long opposed cameras in the courtroom -- to establish
guidelines that judges can refer to in making a decision pertaining to coverage
in a particular case.

Currently, 47 states permit some form of audio-video coverage in their
courtrooms, and 37 directly televise trials. And while all federal district
courts ban cameras, two appellate courts -- the Second and Ninth circuits --
allow cameras in the courtroom.

At the Supreme Court, oral arguments have been recorded for decades, and the
National Archives makes tapes available a few weeks after the end of the term.
In the Bush vs. Gore case last year, an audio recording was made available
shortly after the proceedings for the first time in history.

Still, many -- including those who sit on the Supreme Court -- are worried
that live coverage of courtroom proceedings would make the judicial process a
political one. Federal judges, they say, would be inclined to play to the camera
rather than preside over the court impartially.

For Courtroom Television Network, which showed federal hearings during the
judicial experiment in the early 1990s, this is a bread-and-butter issue. The
network has lobbied Congress to let their video equipment back into district and
appellate courtrooms, making strides in the House but falling short in the
Senate.

But general counsel Douglas Jacobs sees this Congress as their best chance to
get the legislation passed. 'We think there is a better likelihood than ever
that this will pass,' he said. 'The Senate is beginning to recognize the time
has come.'

If the legislation passes, Jacobs said, Court TV plans to track federal court
cases in much the same way that it does other court cases, sifting through
dockets to determine which cases should get live coverage.

C-SPAN, which has provided live coverage of Congress since 1985, has likewise
said it would televise 'every minute of oral argument' if cameras are
allowed.

States News Service

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