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Durbin, Grassley reintroduce bipartisan bill to put cameras in Supreme Court

Mar 17, 2023

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Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are introducing a bipartisan bill to put cameras in the Supreme Court so the public can watch oral arguments live. The Cameras in the Courtroom Act would require the court’s open proceedings to be televised unless the justices determine by a majority vote that it would violate the due process rights of one of the parties.

“As trust in the Supreme Court hovers near all-time lows, shining a light into the Supreme Court chamber would increase transparency, strengthen democracy, and help inform Americans of issues at the forefront of their government,” Sen. Durbin said in a statement.

Right now, anyone who wants to follow Supreme Court arguments live is limited to an audio stream, a practice that began in May of 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, audio was released after arguments concluded.

Lawmakers believe the public should be able to see the court at work and not miss moments that make history.

“So when does the life of the woman and putting her life at risk enter the calculus?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked during oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case that ultimately overturned Roe v. Wade.

It’s a venture Sens. Grassley and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., began in December 2000, when the lawmakers pushed the court to let the public see Bush v. Gore. In response, the justices took the unprecedented step of releasing an audio recording after the arguments were heard.

“The best way that we can ensure the federal government is accountable to the people is to create transparency, openness, and access,” Grassley said during a 2011 Senate hearing.

“Transcripts and audio recordings just aren’t the same as actually watching judges question lawyers live, as actually seeing the exchange of ideas and the expressions of the participants,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, said during the hearing.

Opponents contend the court is supposed to remain politically neutral and cameras may hurt that.

“To the extent that cameras in the courtroom undermine the sense of objectivity, they cause the courts to be perceived more as a policy or political entity,” retired Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said.  

The last time this bill was introduced it was approved by the committee but didn’t get any further. This time, senators think there’s an ever increasing interest in the court, after cases like Dobbs and Bruen.

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Roberts: We will hear arguments this morning in case 19-1392, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization 

Right now, anyone who wants to listen to Supreme Court arguments live is limited to an audio stream. 

Sotomayor: So when does the life of the woman and putting her life at risk enter the calculus? 

But Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley are working together on a bipartisan basis to put cameras inside the court so the world can see it live. 

It’s a venture Senators Grassley and Chuck Schumer began in December of 2000, when the lawmakers pushed the court to let the public see Bush v. Gore. In response, the Justices took the unprecedented step of releasing an audio recording after the arguments were heard.  

 

Grassley: “The best way that we can ensure the federal government is accountable to the people is to create transparency, openness, and access.” 

The newly reintroduced Cameras in the courtroom act would require the court’s open proceedings to be televised. If the bill passes it would be a massive change for the historically cloistered institution. 

The live audio only began in May of 2020 as a response to the Coronavirus. But there’s bipartisan consensus that the people should be able to see what’s happening. As shown in this 2011 Senate hearing. 

Amy Klobuchar: Transcripts and audio recordings just aren’t the same as actually watching judges question lawyers live, as actually seeing the exchange of ideas and the expressions of the participants.

Opponents say the court is supposed to remain politically neutral, and cameras may hurt that. 

 

Jeff Sessions: “To the extent that cameras in the courtroom undermine the sense of objectivity. They cause the courts to be perceived more as a policy or political entity. “

 

The last time this bill was introduced it was approved by the committee but didn’t get any further. But Senators say there’s an ever increasing interest in the court, after cases like Dobbs and Bruen. Straight from DC, I’m Ray Bogan.


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