Three Australian ministers may face contempt charges for criticizing judges

In Australia, the Supreme Court of Victoria has order three government ministers and two journalists to appear before it to explain why they should not face contempt charges for eroding trust in the legal system.  One minister reportedly said that “Labor’s continued appointment of hard-left activist judges has come back to bite Victorians.”  Another allegedly warned that the courts “should not be places for ideological experiments in the face of global and local threats from Islamic extremism.”

The linked article offers as excellent explanation of the two forms of contempt available in Australia.  Although these proceedings are apparently quite rare, they are still shocking to American sensibilities. First Amendment protections and respect for vigorous political speech would make prosecution of this sort unthinkable.

I would welcome any readers more knowledegable than I in Australian jurisprudence (not a high bar) to offer thoughts in the comments.

Two-thirds of South Korean judges want to televise court hearings

A new poll finds that 67 percent of judges in South Korea favor broadcasting judicial proceedings for major criminal cases, as long as the presiding judge gives permission.

From the Korea Herald:

The OCA didn’t mention any specific case in the latest survey but appeared to be collecting the opinions of ordinary judges amid growing public calls for live TV broadcasts of the ongoing trials of former President Park Geun-hye, her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.

Amid enormous public interest in their unprecedented corruption and influence-peddling scandals, there have actually been moves to lift the current ban on TV broadcasts of court hearings.

The current Supreme Court rules allow the filming before the trial begins but do not permit recording, taping or broadcasting after the trial begins.

 

Justice Breyer: Courtroom cameras are too risky

Speaking at the American Constitution Society’s annual convention, Justice Stephen Breyer again expressed skepticism about video recording the Court’s oral arguments.  Breyer stated that some of his friends have told him he does “ridiculous things” during argument, and that the presence of cameras could change the tone of the session.

I will leave an assessment of a public figure questioning public access to issues of public importance, all while speaking at a quasi-public event, as an exercise for the reader.

Imaginary president stumps for real judicial candidate

In advance of this month’s statewide judicial elections, actor Martin Sheen has appeared on YouTube and television, advocating for the reelection of Pennsylvania judge Joseph Cosgrove. That Sheen would support Cosgrove is not surprising: they are apparently old friends and political allies, and Cosgrove evidently represented Sheen for time when he was in private practice.

But the ads are not just an endorsement from Martin Sheen, the actor.  Sheen deliberately blurs the line between his real-life persona and that of Josiah Bartlet, the fictional president from “The West Wing.”  Here is the YouTube endorsement, featuring a “decree” signed by Bartlet.

Continue reading “Imaginary president stumps for real judicial candidate”

Fourth Circuit allows CSPAN broadcast of hearing on President’s immigration order

Yesterday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard the latest challenge to President Trump’s executive order on immigration.  For the first time in circuit history, the court allowed the arguments to be recorded and broadcast on CSPAN.

Even without video, it was an insightful colloquy to listen to.  Imagine if viewers could have seen who was talking!  Still, score one for transparency, and for the court not being afraid to show its important work to the broader public.

Previous coverage here.

Library of Congress features new exhibit on courtroom sketch artists

Smithsonian Magazine has a fun piece on a new exhibit at the Library of Congress featuring courtroom sketch artists and the dramatic moments they captured.  Check out the drawings of a frantic Charles Manson and a serene Timothy McVeigh — both are equally chilling.

Public interest in the Supreme Court is high, but knowledge is low. Should we worry?

The humdrum unanimity of Supreme Court cases is rarely conveyed to the public, even in passing.

CSPAN/PSB has released a new survey of more than 1000 likely voters, concerning their knowledge of and attitudes about the United States Supreme Court.  The results are not particularly encouraging for those who follow the Court closely.

Survey respondents reported very high interest in the Court generally: 90% of respondents agreed that “Supreme Court decisions have an impact on my everyday life as a citizen” and 82% indicated that the issue of Supreme Court appointments was important to their 2016 Presidential vote.  Sixty-five percent of respondents stated that they follow news stories about the Supreme Court “very often” or “somewhat often.”

But at the same time, actual familiarity with the Court and its members is middling at best.  Nearly 60% of survey respondents could not name a single Supreme Court Justice.  And while 71% of respondents said that they were following the recent news about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, only 28% could actually identify that nominee by name.

Also significant were the latest numbers regarding the public’s perception of the Court: 62% of survey respondents agreed that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions demonstrate that the Justices effectively split into parties, similar to Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  By contrast, only 38% of respondents thought that recent decisions demonstrate that the Court acts in a serious and constitutionally sound manner.

Results like these tend to trouble court watchers, both in terms of the general lack of civic knowledge and with respect to the public’s apparent belief that the Court is primarily political body.  These trends do require attention.  But a closer inspection suggests that there is no need to panic — at least not yet. Continue reading “Public interest in the Supreme Court is high, but knowledge is low. Should we worry?”

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”