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All federal judges would have the option of allowing television cameras to broadcast trials live from their courtrooms under a bill approved Thursday by a Senate committee. The bill, which now goes to the full Senate for debate, was approved by the Judiciary Committee in a 12-7 vote. The legislation, unchanged from an earlier proposal that failed in Congress last year, would give judges the option of allowing their proceedings to be televised and photographed. “It’s clearly optional and up to the judges,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the sponsors of the bill. Forty-seven states allow cameras into their courtrooms. The only federal courts where cameras are permitted are the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. Opponents say cameras in the courtroom would bring more sensationalism to trials, lure lawyers into arguing for the cameras rather than the court, pressure judges to allow cameras in all trials, and do little to educate the public about their courts. “As one who watched the O.J. Simpson trial, I’m not sure that cameras in the courtroom are to the benefit of a trial,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “I’m really concerned about trials becoming circuses.” The Judicial Conference, the federal judiciary’s policy-making body, also opposes cameras in trial courts, arguing that cameras raise privacy concerns for witnesses in sensitive cases. Under the bill, a judge can order television cameras to disguise or obscure the faces and voices of witnesses. The bill would allow the Judicial Conference to make rules and regulations for the management and administration of cameras in the courts. Some senators think the proposal has a greater chance of succeeding this time, in part because of the Supreme Court’s decision last year to allow audio broadcasts of its hearings on the Florida presidential election results. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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