Activists’ Demand for Cameras in the Courtroom is Another Attack on the Independent Judiciary

by | Aug 22, 2023 | Law and Fair Courts

Recent claims by liberal pundits and politicians about the legitimacy of America’s judicial system have resulted in a campaign to override the authority of the Supreme Court. It has also revived a decades-long push for televised hearings which would turn the nation’s legal proceedings upside down.

The latest campaign to delegitimize our judicial system involves installing cameras in the Supreme Court and courtrooms across the nation, including those where former President Donald Trump awaits trial.

It seems harmless, right? The U.S. has chosen to televise Congress and the President, why not the courts?

Yet televising our leaders has not given us more transparency. It has led to a Hollywood-like atmosphere in D.C., where lawmakers become celebrity millionaires and pander to at-home audiences.

If this element overtakes our judicial system, it will turn the proceedings into a joke and irreparably harm the cause of justice throughout the United States.  

How This Relates to Trump’s Upcoming Trials

It’s plain to see that the push to televise any of Trump’s upcoming trials in D.C., New York, Georgia, or Florida does not serve the public interest and is meant to turn his political persecution into a complete spectacle.

This tactic is reflected by the news media who are champing at the bit to see Trump sitting in the defendant’s chair, in the hopes they can lock him away forever to keep him from reclaiming the White House. Producers will have hours of footage to cut and paste any way they see fit to make him look extreme, out of touch, or just downright insane.

Lest we forget what happened during the O.J. Simpson double murder trial in the 1990s, recall that it turned into a media frenzy after the proceedings became televised.

Jurors behaved differently, Judge Lance Ito was unable to keep control of his courtroom, and prosecutors and defense attorneys became arguably more concerned with their looks and presentation than with upholding the rule of law. It also resulted in the acquittal of a man who was tried on hard evidence and is widely assumed to have committed the crime in cold blood.

No SCOTUS Cameras: At Least We Can Agree on Something

The Supreme Court’s conservative 6–3 majority has come under fire since it first began forming under the Trump administration. Leftist groups and news outlets tried to derail each of Trump’s nominees one by one.

When that failed, Joe Biden painted the Justices as “not a normal court” earlier this year, hoping to sow seeds of doubt about its power.

The left-wing media has pushed headlines about the dire need for televised hearings of the nine SCOTUS justices, despite audio recordings and renderings that are made available to the public.

Reporters and lawmakers have slipped their camera talking points into a larger push for SCOTUS term-limits and court-packing—a topic they were mostly silent on while the court was evenly split and their party favorites were still being appointed to lifetime seats. If the court had a liberal majority, just imagine the rally cry to “save democracy if conservatives were questioning its decisions and demanding ethics “reforms.”

Several of the high court’s current members—appointed by both Republicans and Democrats—have spoken out against televising their hearings. Even the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a darling of the Left, cautioned against cameras in the Supreme Court due to the power of careful TV editing.  

When former Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom many pundits and scholars respected as a centrist swing vote, testified before Congress in 2007 he hit the nail on the head, saying:  

Please Senator, please don’t introduce into the dynamics that I have with my colleagues—the temptation—the insidious temptation, to think that one of my colleagues is trying to get a soundbite for the television. We don’t want that.

Please don’t introduce this into our inter-collegial deliberations. We don’t want it. We are judged by what we write in the federal reports. We have a timeline, a language, a grammar, an ethic . . . that’s different than the political branch . . . I hope that the Senate would defer to us as a coordinate branch of the government.

Democrats realize they cannot control the high court with its current makeup. Therefore, “progressives” have decided that the court must be audited, reigned in, and term-limited, despite Senators and House members being able to repeatedly run for office and serve until they pass away from old age. (Diane Feinstein, anyone?)

Brief History of Cameras in the Courtroom

The push to televise court proceedings dates back to 1946, when the idea of televising criminal trials in federal court was prohibited, unless overridden by a specific law or statute.

As television became more influential, the Judicial Conference of the United States took action in 1972 and made rules against “broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in the courtroom and areas immediately adjacent thereto.” This applied to criminal and civil cases.

By 1988, former Chief Justice William Rehnquist was appointed to lead the Ad Hoc Committee on Cameras in the Courtroom.

Two years later, the conference recommended a pilot program allowing media coverage of civil proceedings in select districts and appellate courts. The conference also adopted a new policy on cameras, stating:

A Judge may authorize broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in the courtroom and in adjacent areas during investitive, naturalization, or other ceremonial proceedings. A judge may authorize such activities in the courtroom or adjacent areas during other proceedings, or recesses between such other proceedings, only . . For the presentation of evidence; for the perpetuation of the record of the proceedings; for security purposes; for other purposes of judicial administration; or in accordance with pilot programs approved by the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Pilot programs ran throughout the 1990s, but the Conference ultimately concluded the “intimidating effect of cameras” was too strong to merit further expansion. In the mid-1990s, however, the Conference allowed each courts of appeal to decide if they wanted televised hearings.

Fast-forward to 2010, when the Judicial Conference authorized a three-year pilot project to evaluate the effect of cameras in district courtrooms, limited to civil cases only. Fourteen courts participated. By 2016, it was no surprise that three of the most liberal regions were chosen to continue the experiment: northern California, western Washington state, and Guam.

The current layout for televising proceedings involves a judge authorizing “broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in the courtroom and in adjacent areas during investitive, naturalization, or other ceremonial proceedings. A judge may authorize such activities in the courtroom or adjacent areas during other proceedings, or recesses between such other proceedings,” only for:

The presentation of evidence; the perpetuation of the record of the proceedings; security purposes; other purposes of judicial administration; the photographing, recording, or broadcasting of appellate arguments; or in accordance with pilot programs approved by the Judicial Conference.

The presiding judge must also make certain the use of cameras is “consistent with the rights of the parties,” does “not unduly distract participants in the proceeding,” and does “not otherwise interfere with the administration of justice.”

Something that will be difficult to accomplish given how strongly the Left loathes Trump.

Stay Tuned or Cut the Cord?

Allowing more cameras into U.S. courtrooms would be a major mistake. At the local, federal and Supreme Court level.

It would sensationalize cases, play to the vanity of judges, and give the biased media a chance to cherry-pick their favorite moments in order to push political talking points.

The courts, unlike the political arena, have always tried to retain a sense of reverence and fairness. Cameras are just another system of ensuring outside control.

What’s next? A Bud Light commercial in between Supreme Court decisions? Judges giving interviews to tabloid outlets while wearing the robe of the righteous? The two should not mix. Especially given the upcoming and unprecedented trials against Trump.

There is already enough uncertainty here. Let’s not support adding more variables to this pressure-packed drama, that continues to escalate with each passing day.  

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