During debate on the bills Thursday, some senators discussed concerns about cameras in the courtroom dating back to OJ Simpson’s trial in the 1990s. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Said that public access to the live television broadcast of the recent criminal trial of Minneapolis Constable Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd demonstrated the benefit and importance of allowing such access.
“I felt it was a moment of redemption,” said Klobuchar, a former prosecutor. “It was a time of redemption in part because people could see their fellow citizens talking about what had happened… If it hadn’t been televised the verdict probably could have been the same, but people didn’t could not have seen it. “
However, several GOP senators opposed the transparency bills or sought to water them down.
“I think these measures are well intentioned, but they are misguided,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “More sun, more transparency in government is generally a good thing, but I don’t think our justice system is particularly lacking right now. “
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a former Supreme Court litigator, warned that allowing arguments to be broadcast there on television would lead to a demonstration by lawyers and judges.
“I have no doubt that if there were TV cameras during the oral argument, you would see the lawyers for both sides behave differently and play with them and unfortunately you would see the judges behave differently and play in front of them. the cameras, ”said Cruz. “I think it’s better for our country if the Supreme Court is a little more boring and doesn’t have Judge Judy as a dynamic in the courtroom.”
Cruz said all Senators know their discussions are very different when on camera and behind closed doors.
“Each of us behaves dramatically differently when this C-SPAN camera is on than when we are in a classified briefing,” the Texas Republican said.
Cruz said he favors same-day access to audio of arguments in appellate courts. He did not note that many federal appeals courts were already planning this before the pandemic or that the 9th Circuit is streaming live video of virtually all appeal arguments.
Few, if any, senators seemed to have a clear idea of how the pandemic has affected electronic access to federal courts.
For more than a year, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Supreme Court provided live audio access to arguments instead of in-person access.
In addition, under special permission granted by Congress last year in the CARES Act, federal courts have held numerous hearings in criminal cases by videoconference or teleconference. Members of the public and the press have generally accessed these hearings by telephone or the Internet.
On Wednesday, the head of the Federal Courts Administrative Office sent Durbin and Grassley a letter opposing the bill to provide continuous video and audio access to trial and appellate courts. Judge Roslynn Mauskopf said changes to the court’s permanent rules should go through a notice and comment process, rather than being imposed by Congress.
“Although the Judicial Conference opposes this legislation for the reasons stated above, the judiciary has learned a great deal about the benefits and risks of providing audio and video access in emergency situations, and is working to determine if, and under what circumstances, conferencing platforms and real-time audio could be used in district courts, ”Mauskopf wrote.