Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and five of their Senate colleagues reintroduced bipartisan legislation to expand the public’s window into federal court proceedings by allowing television cameras in federal courtrooms. The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act allows judges to permit media coverage of trial and appellate cases while ensuring appropriate due process safeguards and privacy protections for witnesses and jurors remain intact.
“Federal courtrooms represent a place to find justice and to resolve disputes fairly. They also represent the birthplace of decisions that can impact the lives of Americans for generations. Yet many Americans may never have a chance to step foot in a courtroom and witness the judicial process in action,” Grassley said. “In much the same way that C-SPAN fostered a greater understanding of the legislative process and improved transparency in Congress, allowing cameras in federal courtrooms would contribute to a better understanding of the American judicial system. This bill accomplishes that all while keeping in place privacy protections for witnesses and jurors.”
“Our judicial system is one of the crown jewels of American democracy, but as technology evolves, so should transparency,” Cornyn said. “Texas has led the way with permitting cameras in many of the Lone Star State’s courtrooms, and I’m proud to introduce this legislation to ensure federal courts are able to provide that same access to the public.”
“Increasing transparency in the justice system strengthens our democracy. I’m proud to support this bipartisan bill to put cameras in federal courtrooms so the American people can see the inner workings of our government,” Durbin said.
“Allowing Americans to witness their justice system at work benefits our democracy and the rule of law. At a time of increased polarization and distrust in our institutions, we should encourage Americans to watch our independent judiciary – the crown jewel of our democracy – in action. Moreover, Americans deserve more transparency into the courtrooms where monumental decisions impacting their rights and lives are made. This Sunshine Week, I’m proud to cosponsor this bill that would bring sunshine into our courtrooms,” Leahy said.
“Greater transparency in the courtroom will lead to greater accountability and greater understanding of our judicial system. Judicial proceedings can be a matter of life or death – and any process with that kind of impact on people’s lives shouldn’t be cloaked in secrecy. I’m proud to cosponsor this measure shining a light into courtrooms for the American public,” Blumenthal said.
“Our judicial system is strongest when the people can observe its workings. The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act creates a window into our courthouses, ensures transparency in our proceedings, and strengthens the public’s confidence in the administration of justice. I am proud to co-sponsor this critical legislation to bolster our democracy and work toward true justice in every courtroom across the country,” Markey said.
The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act grants the presiding judge in all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, the discretion to allow cameras in the courtroom while protecting the identities of witnesses and jurors when necessary or upon request. It also prohibits media coverage of private conversations between clients and counsel, between opposing attorneys, and between counsel and the presiding judge. The bill contains a three-year sunset provision, requiring Congress to evaluate how media access is impacting the judiciary.
All 50 states currently allow some form of audio or video coverage of court proceedings under a variety of rules and conditions, however federal court rules vary by district. Many federal courts, including the Supreme Court, prohibit the use of live media coverage. Public scrutiny of federal court proceedings will produce greater accountability and transparency of the judiciary system.
Along with Grassley and Klobuchar, this legislation is cosponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Grassley is also the lead cosponsor of separate legislation that would require television camera access in U.S. Supreme Court oral argument proceedings. The bills coincide with Sunshine Week, a time dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of transparency in government.