The surreptitious videos taken inside the U.S. Supreme Court that popped up on YouTube in recent days were an embarrassment to the court—but not a violation of any law.
The court itself prohibits cameras and all electronic devices inside the courtroom, and its screening of people entering the courtroom would likely detect most conventional cameras or phones with cameras.
But while it is a crime to “harangue” or utter “loud threatening or abusive language” inside the courtroom—as occurred during oral argument on Wednesday—it is not a crime to possess or use a camera there.
That explains why the court’s official statement about the videos on Thursday mentioned no investigation of who took the images.
“Court officials are in the process of reviewing the video and our courtroom screening procedures,” said spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg.
One possibility is that whoever took the videos did so with a pen camera that could evade detection, since spectators are allowed to take pens into the court and take notes.
Pen cameras are easily available online, some costing less than $20. Their purpose is clear: taking surreptitious videos. One pen camera available on Amazon.com came under criticism by purchasers because a green light on the top of the pen was too obvious.
As many as six videos from inside the court were posted on YouTube by “SCOTUSpwned” according to an analysis on The First Casualty blog.
The video was taken during two oral arguments – one in October and the other on Wednesday of this week. Video of the most recent argument included a closeup view of the outburst by Noah Newkirk asking the court to overturn its 2010 Citizens United decision. Newkirk was arrested.
Contact Tony Mauro at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @Tonymauro.