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Chabot's Bipartisan Cameras In the Courtroom Amendment Passes Judiciary Committee

Location: Washington, DC

Chabot's Bipartisan Cameras In the Courtroom Amendment Passes Judiciary Committee
October 27, 2005

Amendment Mirrors Sunshine in the Courtroom Act

Washington, D.C. - The Judiciary Committee today passed a bipartisan amendment offered by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) to the Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act. The amendment, which would allow television cameras to broadcast federal court cases, passed by a vote of 20 to 12. The amendment was cosponsored by Ranking Judiciary Committee Member John Conyers (D-MI) and Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA). The bill was passed by the committee and referred to the full House for further consideration.

Under Chabot's Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, federal judges would be permitted to allow the televising of civil and criminal trials or appeals. The presiding judge would have the discretion to allow recording for radio or television, or to permit still photography where appropriate. Recognizing special concerns about televising federal trials, the Chabot amendment provides strong safeguards for witnesses. The presiding judge, if requested to do so by any trail witness, juror, or other party, must order the face and voice of any party to be disguised or obscured in a manner that renders them unrecognizable to the broadcast audience.

Currently, all 50 states have chosen to allow television access to some type of court proceedings and 41 states allow television coverage at both the trial and appellate court level. Additionally, a major pilot project conducted in selected federal courts between 1991 and 1993 met with great success.

Chabot originally introduced the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act in 1997 with New York Democrat Charles Schumer. In the 106th Congress, the legislation was incorporated into the Courts Improvement Act which passed the House, but was never considered in the Senate. During the current 109th Congress, Chabot and Congressman Delahunt offered a bill with nearly identical text to the amendment that passed today. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) have introduced two separate bills in the Senate to allow cameras in federal courtrooms.

Chabot's statement follows:

Statement by Congressman Steve Chabot
Judiciary Committee Markup of the Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act
October 27, 2005

"I wanted to take this opportunity to say a few words about the amendment I have introduced concerning the use of cameras in federal courtrooms. I want to first thank my friends across the aisle who have always made this issue bipartisan. Mr. Delahunt has been the leading cosponsor of the "Cameras in the Courtroom bill" H.R. 2422, and Mr. Conyers is the leading co-sponsor of the amendment today.

"I have advocated televised coverage of federal court proceedings since my early days in Congress. Prior to coming here, as a City Councilman and County Commissioner, I sponsored legislation to provide televised coverage of the Cincinnati City Council and the Hamilton County Commission. I've always believed taxpayers are entitled to see their government at work.

"The Cameras in the Courtroom Amendment would give federal judges the discretion to allow media coverage of courtroom proceedings. Currently, the Judicial Conference guidelines prohibit cameras in these courtrooms, reflecting the previous philosophy of the late Chief Justice Rehnquist. However, every state except for the District of Columbia allows cameras in the courtroom in some form - either at the appellate level or both the trial and appellate level.

"The principal of open government is embodied in this amendment - the American people deserve greater access to the federal court system. It is good public policy for Congress to facilitate, through media access to the courtroom, the ability of people to exercise their right to freedom of speech, freedom of press, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The Supreme Court has also acknowledged these rights in the case of Craig v. Harney - 'A trial is a public event. What transpires in the court room is public property.'

"The amendment also recognizes the special concerns that surround televising trials and includes language to disguise the voice and image of non-party witnesses and jurors upon their request. A sunset provision is also included to review the status of cameras in the courtroom after 3 years.

"The nomination hearings of Justice Roberts brought the issue of cameras in the courtroom to light once again and both Senator Grassley and Senator Specter have authored legislation addressing this issue.

"When Judge Roberts was asked by several Senators about the use of cameras in the courtroom the new Chief Justice stated: 'Well, you know my new best friend, Sen. Thompson assures me that television cameras are nothing to be afraid of. But, I don't have a set view on that.' Passage of this amendment would send a strong signal to the Chief Justice that coverage of Supreme Court proceedings is long overdue.

"The chambers of Congress are open to all citizens through C-SPAN allowing the American people to stay apprised of the actions of the legislative branch of government. Why should the judicial branch be any different? Lifetime tenure for unelected officials conveys a tremendous amount of power. When the Supreme Court is in session, you can walk by and see hundreds of people waiting for their opportunity to observe the judicial process. Why should our constituents not be allowed to observe this process and why should people be forced to rely on the news media to interpret and filter the proceedings when cameras would allow citizens to watch for themselves?

"I would urge my colleagues to vote in favor of this amendment to provide broader access to court proceedings."

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