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March 6, 2008

Let the sunshine in ... to SCOTUS and all other federal courts

I am extraordinarily pleased to see this news that today the "Senate Judiciary Committee today passed out a bill that would allow TV coverage of all federal courts."  Here's more from Lawrence Hurley's interesting report:

The committee has approved similar bills on several occasions in recent years but the legislation, known as the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, has never been close to becoming law.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., (pictured) narrowly failed in his attempt to exempt district courts.  His amendment failed on a 9-9 tie. 

Cardin had argued that while there is a need to show the inner workings of the appellate process, especially the Supreme Court, trials in district court are more problematic.  That's because the media would not cover trials from gavel to gavel, he said.

But the bill's sponsors fought back, noting that the latest version of the legislation allows trial judges to exclude the cameras in certain instances, such as to protect witnesses and minors.  Sen. John Cornyn, D-Texas, added that coverage of trials would help the American people understand that trials are a lot more complex - and less entertaining - than legal TV dramas make them appear.  "I think it's important for them to see what happens," Cornyn said of the public.

A House version of the bill has already been approved by the judiciary committee.

Readers will not be surprised to learn that I think it is especially important to see what happens in district courts at sentencings.  Indeed, I think all law professors should lobby hard in favor of this Act in order to have a terrific corpus of teaching materials in the form of courtroom video.  I might even be able to develop a sentencing-only version of YouTube.

March 6, 2008 at 03:50 PM | Permalink


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There seems to have been no effect to televise executions. After all, people seem even MORE concerned about the DP then they do about trial court proceedings.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 6, 2008 4:14:38 PM

"Readers will not be surprised to learn that I think it is especially important to see what happens in district courts at sentencings."

But do you think any station or network will actually televise those sentencings? There once was a network that thought people wanted to watch court proceedings. It was called Court TV. It isn't called that any more.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Mar 6, 2008 4:28:48 PM

Kent, the TV stations won't, but if they're available online that's good enough for Doug's purposes.

When the Texas Legislature began putting all its hearings and proceedings online, it was one of the most democratizing events imaginable. All of a sudden, someone homebound in a far-flung corner of the state could follow proceedings as closely as a lobbyist prowling the hallways. It's frankly hard to overstate the impact it had, changing the whole culture of the institution, largely for the better (though sometimes making it more hostile and partisan).

I don't suppose video of court proceedings would have as great an effect as it did on a legislative body. After all, at the Legislature the people can have input if they notice something they don't like, while in court you need standing to have a voice.

FWIW, I believe both the TX Supreme Court and our regional Courts of Appeals are all about to go online with all their public proceedings, using money from a foundation grant if I'm not mistaken. The Court of Criminal Appeals won't be televised, though, according to the most recent word I got.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 6, 2008 7:09:42 PM

Nancy Grace. 'Nuff said.

If it bans Nancy Grace from being a host, EVER, and bans voting on guilt or innocence before all the evidence is in and the jury is out, it would be cool.

Posted by: George | Mar 6, 2008 7:35:02 PM

Yes, online would do it, but someone would have to take the video and put it online. The bill only permits coverage. It doesn't set up a government-provided online service. Is anyone going to regularly record court proceedings in routine cases and make them available? Doubtful. It is more likely that we will only have cameras in highly publicized and very atypical cases.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Mar 7, 2008 7:46:21 AM

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