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Texas Congressmen involved in efforts to allow cameras in federal courtrooms, U.S. Supreme Ct.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, is co-sponsoring a Senate bill to allow cameras into federal courtrooms and the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Cornyn has signed on to S. 643, Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, a measure filed last week by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA.

Grassley and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, reintroduced the measure last week which has been filed in several recent sessions of Congress, but has yet to catch fire.

The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act allows judges to permit media coverage of trial and appellate cases while ensuring that appropriate due process safeguards and privacy protections for witnesses and jurors remain intact.

S. 643 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/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.  

Grassley and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, will introduce a separate Senate measure to allow proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court to be televised.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, has already introduced the House companion bill, H.R. 464, Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2017, with U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-VA.

H.R. 464 would require the U.S. Supreme Court to permit television coverage of all open sessions of the Court, unless the Court decides, by a majority vote of the Justices, that doing so would constitute a violation of the due process rights of one or more of the parties before the Court. 

In 2016, the Government Accountability Office released a report highlighting the value of broadcasting video and audio coverage of Supreme Court and other appellate court proceedings. 

The report cites stakeholders who state that the benefits of such coverage include enhancing public access to the courts, educating the public on the judiciary, and providing a useful window into how courts think about the issues in a case.

Questions? Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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