A pilot program to allow video recording in some federal courts is getting resistance from a new source: lawyers for the U.S. House's Republican leadership.
The federal judiciary began the experiment in July in 14 district courts around the country, responding to pressure from Congress and elsewhere to accept more electronic media. The program includes some strict limits, including a rule that gives any party to a case the power to veto camera access.
Lawyers for the House have chosen to exercise that power in a case in the Northern District of California. In a one-paragraph filing on Friday, the lawyers wrote that House leadership “prefers not to participate in this district’s pilot project permitting video recording of courtroom proceedings,” according to a story in The Recorder, a California-based sibling publication of The National Law Journal. The filing doesn’t give a reason.
The case involves the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and the other party, plaintiff Karen Golinski, agreed to the video recording. Golinski is a staff attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit who is seeking health benefits for her wife.
The House’s filing objecting to video recording is signed by House General Counsel Kerry Kircher. He represents a five-member House leadership group on which Republicans have a 3-2 majority, and he ultimately reports to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Kircher and a Boehner spokesman did not respond to requests for comment today.
It’s not clear whether the House’s lawyers have ever before weighed in on the subject of cameras in court. “I am not aware of the issue ever having arisen before. I would be surprised if it had,” wrote Michael Stern, a former senior counsel in the House General Counsel’s Office, in an e-mail today. Stern writes about congressional legal issues at his blog, Point of Order.
At least in recent years, Boehner did not sign on as a co-sponsor to legislation that would open up the federal courts to cameras, but another Ohio Republican, Rep. Steve Chabot, has been a lead sponsor of the legislation.
Thomas Burke, co-chair of the media law practice at Davis Wright Tremain in San Francisco, told The Recorder he did not think the House’s resistance would have a long-term impact on the video experiment. “I think it will pick up momentum,” Burke said.