Updates on cameras in the courtroom

This has been a busy week for policies governing the use of courtroom cameras.

  • Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IN) introduced S.643, which I have seen alternately referred to as the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2017 or the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2017.  The Act would require open proceedings in the United States Supreme Court to be televised.  Similar legislation has already been introduced in the House. Variations of this Act have been introduced for many years, without success.
  • Several media outlets declared this week “Sunshine Week,” leading to editorials calling for allowing cameras into both state and federal courtrooms.
  • On its own volition, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has started posting video of its oral arguments online. The always terrific Howard Bashman has the details in a new column for the Legal Intelligencer. The Third Circuit’s press release, which provides more context for its decision to make videos available,  is here.

Indiana state courts now open to live tweeting

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications has issued an advisory opinion stating that live tweeting, microblogging, and other forms of “electronically relaying a written message” do not constitute broadcasting, and therefore do not fall under the general ban on broadcasting courtroom proceedings.  The decision paves the way for journalists of all types to share information on live testimony through Twitter.  Broadcasting video or audio of court proceedings is still prohibited, and trial judges still have discretion to restrict microblogging activity in any given proceeding or trial.

More on the background of the new opinion here.

Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials

Starting today.  This is a very interesting development for a few reasons.  First, it appears to apply to both criminal and civil cases, with exceptions made only for highly sensitive proceedings like juvenile and family cases, criminal pretrial motions, grand jury hearings, probate matters, and trade secret disputes.  Second, it is being permitted by state supreme court rule rather than legislation.  Third, the cameras will be operated by  external media outlets, who may edit the materials as they see fit (although they are cautioned to edit wisely).

I have long been an advocate of the educational and cognitive benefits of broadcasting courtroom proceedings, and was disappointed when the federal pilot project for recording selected civil proceedings was terminated in 2015.  Nebraska’s new policy is much more expansive than the federal pilot, and does pose a certain risk that courtroom events will be unfairly or improperly presented, that off-limits personnel (like jurors) will be shown, or that witnesses or lawyers will play to the cameras.  But I think the risk is minimal.  Continue reading “Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials”