One more try for cameras in the courts

There’s a pair of bipartisan bills pending in the House and Senate which are once again taking on an old issue. Should federal courts – including the Supreme Court of the United States – be forced to allow cameras in the chamber providing television coverage of the proceedings? And if not, why?

Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley have failed in the past when they’ve attempted this, but they’re giving it the good ole’ college try yet again.

For his part, Grassley said, “Our federal court system is a beacon of justice and fairness, and the implications of its decisions have resonated throughout American history. Yet, many Americans may never be able to witness this process firsthand.” He continued, “We need to open the doors and let the light shine in on the federal judiciary.”

Grassley, the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted he has joined Schumer in sponsoring the legislation since 1999—an indication of how persistent yet unsuccessful Congress has been in nudging the judiciary toward greater access.

Bills on the subject have been endorsed in committee from time to time, but they die on the way to the full House or Senate. The Durbin-Grassley bill was endorsed by bipartisan votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2010 and 2012, but went no further. Behind the congressional reluctance is the awareness of the judiciary’s strong opposition to broadcast access.

How do these bills continue to fail? And perhaps more to the point, why is legislation needed in the first place? I remain baffled as to why the courts fight against this. The Supreme Court already releases audio of the proceedings at the end of the week. Reporters are on hand to transcribe what happens. Sketch artists make a living bringing us cartoons of the various actors on this most important of stages. What is the barrier to having cameras in the back just as CSPAN does with the House and Senate?

I understand that there are some events which take place in Congress which can not and should not be broadcast. They revolve almost entirely around matters of national security and military activity. But for the most part, everything else that the people’s elected representatives do during business hours while working for us is fair game. The courts should have even less room to argue that their business is not the public’s business. Exceptions would be made, of course, such as for the FISA Court. But those hearings once again deal with cases frequently involving national security and ongoing investigations.

But when does the Supreme Court ever hear a case which deals with sensitive matters of national security? If they do… fine. Shut the cameras off and kick everyone out after explaining why. But if Congress works for us, don’t the courts as well? Their decisions affect everyone and echo through generations of Americans’ lives. The argument that the cameras are “a distraction” seems to be weak tea given how little it has inhibited the blowhards in the Legislative branch.

While we’re on the subject, how much of the President’s day is spent discussing sensitive intelligence matters? Maybe we should look into a modern day Nixonian approach and get some cameras in the Oval Office as well.

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