There was neither a published nor unpublished opinion—no formal judgment at all—for this federal appeals court decision: A sketch artist was barred from capturing oral argument in a high-profile Guantánamo detainee case.
Longtime courtroom sketch artist Bill Hennessy Jr. brought his 20"x26" portfolio and his tackle box of pastels, charcoal, colored pencils, and water color markers, to the line at Courtroom No. 5 at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week. The court’s chief deputy clerk, Marilyn Sargent, confronted Hennessy. No sketching allowed today, Hennessy recalled Sargent say.
Hennessy, who’s been sketching court action for nearly 30 years, says he wasn’t given much of an explanation and assumed that tight space was the hang-up. He put his gear in a press room and returned to court with a college-ruled 8"x10" pad and black pen. A dozen reporters took up two rows in court. Other observers stood against the side and back walls of the room.
During argument in Kiyemba v. Bush—Judges A. Raymond Randolph, Karen LeCraft Henderson, and Judith Rogers made up the panel—Hennessy jotted down suit and tie color and made note of gestures. Back in the office, Hennessy (pictured on the right) sketched from memory and his notes, a task he says is far more difficult than sketching live in court.
In a wide shot, he captured the panel judges on the bench and Solicitor General Gregory Garre (dark gray suit with a solid light blue tie) at the podium; Hennessy sketched Bingham McCutchen partner P. Sabin Willett (dark suit with a red, black, and white striped tie) standing alone. Willett argued for the release of Uighur detainees, who were not in court.
“I found a very fair, legal, and proper way around the issue and executed it after the fact. As long as I can see it I can sketch it,” Hennessy says. A Hennessy sketch from oral argument aired on Fox news.
The panel judges—or at least one member—apparently were not pleased after seeing Hennessy’s sketch. Sargent called Hennessy the next day to express the dismay of the panel. “I was baffled. I didn’t get it,” Hennessy says. “That starts to weigh into the right of free expression.”
Sargent didn’t name names in the phone call. The BLT could not immediately reach Sargent for comment. Randolph, Henderson, and Rogers also have not been reached for an explanation why Hennessy was barred from sketching in court. Hennessy fired off a letter to the court Friday expressing his concern.
Chief Judge David Sentelle explained to The BLT that there is no policy on sketch artists. Panel judges call the shots. Sentelle says he was not made aware of the Hennessy issue until after it happened. “I cannot say whether it was unanimous or what it was,” Sentelle says. “The judges who presided make the decision.”
Sentelle, who has served on the D.C. Circuit since 1987, says he’s presided over hearings in which sketch artists were in court and has never blocked an artist from sitting in the gallery. Asked whether he is fond of his likeness, as rendered in a sketch, Sentelle says with a chuckle: “I recall on the Oliver North case I would not have recognized any of us.”
Hennessy says he’s never been banned from a courtroom absent a court order blocking all press from a hearing. He’s made accommodations for cramped courtrooms, bringing a smaller pad when space is tight. Some of Hennessy's work can be found here.