Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have introduced legislation to permit federal and appellate judges to allow the use of cameras in the courtroom.
“The judicial branch of our federal government is a mystery to many Americans. Cameras in courtrooms would help lift the veil of secrecy and contribute to greater public understanding of the judicial system,” Grassley said in a written statement.
The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act doesn’t require federal court judges to allow cameras but instead gives them discretion to permit cameras or other electronic media access if they see fit. The bill directs the Judicial Conference of the United States, the principal policy-making entity for the federal courts, to draft non-binding guidelines for judges to refer to when making a decision regarding media coverage of a particular trial.
The bill includes safeguards that would allow witnesses who are not parties in the case to request their image and voice to be obscured during testimony. The bill instructs the Judicial Conference to issue mandatory guidelines for obscuring vulnerable witnesses, such as undercover officers and crime victims, if revealing their identity would threaten their safety, the security of the court or future or ongoing law enforcement operations.
Media coverage of jurors would be prohibited, as well as the broadcast of any conference that is not part of the official record of the proceedings.
A three-year sunset provision has been included in the bill to provide Congress with a mechanism to study the effects of the legislation. The bill has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)