Lawmakers in the House debated Tuesday whether cameras should be allowed in federal courtrooms, just days after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals live streamed audio of its hearing on President Trump’s executive order temporarily barring immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) called the idea of allowing cameras dangerous.
“There’s enough grandstanding in Congress before the cameras in hearings and on the floor. Can you imagine what would take place in a courtroom?” he asked during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.
Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association, who testified before the committee, said he saw what took place in the courtroom during the O.J. Simpson trial.
“And that was a circus in and of itself,” Marino said, interrupting.
“Even the judge, in my opinion, spent too much time looking at the cameras, as did the defense and prosecution. This is a dangerous, dangerous area to get into. … The last thing we need is speculation that nothing will happen. What if something happens?”
Osterreicher argued that people have a right to monitor the official functions of their government and that transparent court proceedings improve the quality of testimony, persuade unknown witnesses to come forward, make trial participants more conscientious and provide an opportunity to better observe the workings of our judicial system.
“I think we all agree that courtrooms are open to the public, and blaming the camera for the circus-like atmosphere that sometimes goes on in and outside the courtroom I think is shooting the messenger,” he said.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) asked about claims that having cameras in the courtrooms heighten the level of potential threats against judges.
Osterreicher said images of judges can already be found on the internet just by searching their name.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) asked how sensitive information could be protected if cameras were allowed.
But Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said if that were a problem it would already exist with audio.
“The camera doesn’t add or detract from that problem,” he said.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said he was one of the first trial judges in his state to allow cameras in the courtroom.
“We had a system that was very discrete. The jury never saw the cameras," he said. "The cameras did not film the jury, child witnesses, sexual assault witnesses or any other witness that the lawyers did not agree should be filmed.”
Poe called it shameful that the public is left with a 90-second soundbite on the news of what the reporter thinks took place that day in a trial court, the Supreme Court, an appellate court or federal district court because they are not permitted to see it for themselves.
“We have the greatest judicial system in the world for determining guilt or innocence,” he said.
“No, it’s not perfect, but it is the absolute best that anybody has ever come up with, and why would we not want the world to see it?”
Poe introduced legislation last month with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) to allow Supreme Court proceedings to be televised.
Nadler also has a bill. The Eyes on the Courts Act, which he reintroduced Monday, goes a step further, allowing cameras in all Supreme Court as well as federal appellate court proceedings.