Durbin, Grassley Bill Will Require Supreme Court To Allow Cameras In The Courtroom

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reintroduced legislation today to require open proceedings of the Supreme Court to be televised.  The bipartisan Cameras in the Courtroom Act would require the 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.  Today’s bill introduction coincides with “Sunshine Week,” a national initiative aimed at promoting a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.  

“Supreme Court rulings affect the lives of every American from every zip code in the country. Yet, Supreme Court arguments and decisions can only be watched by a few hundred Americans who are able to obtain a seat in the courtroom and view them live,” Durbin said. “I’m once again reintroducing this bill so we can shine a light in the halls of this historic court, and ensure that decisions affecting our country for generations to come can viewed by everyone.”

“Decisions made by the Supreme Court can resonate with Americans for generations, yet most of them will never have a chance to see the highest court in action. Opening up the Supreme Court’s public proceedings to cameras and other broadcast tools provides a window into the court for all Americans, not just those in Washington, D.C.  It would also expand the people’s understanding of our judicial system,” Grassley said.

U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are cosponsoring the Cameras in the Courtroom Act.  

The House plans to reintroduce companion legislation soon.  U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL-05) has led this effort in the House for the past several Congresses. 

“Judicial transparency is paramount to a well-functioning democracy,” said Quigley. “Just last week, I brought Justices Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito before the House Appropriations subcommittee that I chair to emphasize the importance of allowing cameras in the courtroom. It is a disservice not to provide the public with access to federal court deliberations, and by taking this important step to increase government transparency the American people can have an opportunity to hear firsthand the arguments and opinions that will shape their society for years to come.”

The Cameras in the Courtroom Act only applies to open sessions of the Supreme Court – sessions where members of the public are already invited to observe in person, but often cannot because there are a very limited number of unreserved seats in the Courtroom.  Allowing public scrutiny of Supreme Court proceedings would produce greater accountability, transparency, and understanding of our judicial system.  

In 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) 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.

In 2012, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan vote of 11-7. The bill was also approved by the Committee on a bipartisan vote of 13-6 in 2010.