Congress is once again considering a bill that would give federal judges at all levels the option to open their courtrooms to television cameras and radio broadcasts.
Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Representative Steve King, R-Iowa, have filed the "Sunshine in the Courtroom Act," and Democrats have co-sponsored the bills in both chambers, Grassley’s office announced.
Grassley has introduced a version of the bill with Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., since 1999, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is a co-sponsor.
"Openness in our courts improves the public’s understanding of what happens inside our courts. Our judicial system remains a mystery to too many people across the country," Grassley said on the Senate floor Thursday. "That doesn’t need to continue."
The bill’s provisions fall short of other bills routinely introduced (but never passed) that would force cameras in the courtroom, even including that of the U.S. Supreme Court. If passed, Grassley’s bill would expire after three years so Congress could study the effects of the legislation before making any permanent changes.
Grassley said Iowa has allowed cameras in its courtrooms with great results. Studies and surveys show that electronic media coverage of trials "boosts public understanding of the court system without interfering with court proceedings," Grassley said in his statement.
"Courts are the bedrock of the American justice system," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "I believe that granting the public greater access to an already public proceeding will inspire greater faith in and appreciation for our judges who pledge equal and impartial justice for all."
Only the District of Columbia prohibits trial and appellate court coverage entirely, Grassley said.
Grassley’s bill gives non-party witnesses the right to have their faces and voices obscured, and it prohibits the televising of jurors. The bill also includes a provision to protect the due process rights of each party, Grassley said.
King is joined in the House by representatives Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. A version passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009, but was never brought up on the Senate floor.
Openness in our courts improves the public’s understanding of what happens inside our courts. Our judicial system remains a mystery to too many people across the country.
—Sen. Chuck Grassley