WASHINGTON – Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to expand the public’s window into federal court processes and procedures 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. Allowing cameras in the courts creates a window into our judicial process for those Americans who may never climb the courthouse steps.  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, and appreciation for, the American judicial system,” Grassley said.
“Our nation is stronger when the public can see how our institutions function and reach their decisions. The decisions made in courtrooms across our country impact the lives of every American. At a time when good journalism is more important than ever, allowing television cameras inside the courtroom would boost public confidence in government and contribute to a well-functioning democracy,” Klobuchar said.
The  Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, S.770, 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.  Public scrutiny of federal court proceedings will produce greater accountability and transparency of the judiciary system.
Along with Grassley and Klobuchar, the bill is cosponsored by senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Text of the  Sunshine in the Courtroom Act is available  HERE.
Grassley is also the lead cosponsor of separate legislation requiring 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.