03.13.19

During Sunshine Week, Leahy Again Joins In Introducing Bill With Grassley And Klobuchar To Allow Cameras In Federal Courts

On Wednesday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in reintroducing bipartisan legislation to expand the public’s window into the workings of our justice system by allowing television cameras in federal courtrooms.  The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act empowers judges to permit media coverage of trial and appellate cases while ensuring that appropriate due process and privacy safeguards for witnesses and jurors remain intact. 

The senators reintroduced this bill during Sunshine Week, the annual commemoration of the American public’s right to know.  Leahy has long been the Senate’s leading champion of transparency and the landmark Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). He was inducted into the FOIA Hall of Fame in 1996.

Leahy said:  “An independent judiciary is the crown jewel of our constitutional system.  Giving Americans a window to observe how our justice system functions would increase understanding of and faith in our institutions at a time of widespread distrust in government.  By increasing transparency in our courts, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act also promotes a well-informed citizenry, which is the beating heart of a healthy democracy.”

The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, S.770, grants the presiding judge in all federal courts, including the Supreme Court, the discretion to allow cameras in the courtroom while protecting the identities of witnesses and jurors when necessary or upon request. It also prohibits media coverage of private conversations between clients and counsel, between opposing attorneys, and between counsel and the presiding judge.  The bill contains a three-year sunset provision, requiring Congress to evaluate how media access is impacting the judiciary.

All 50 states currently allow some form of audio/video coverage of court proceedings under a variety of rules and conditions, however federal court rules vary by district.  Many federal courts, including the Supreme Court, prohibit the use of live media coverage.  Public scrutiny of federal court proceedings will produce greater accountability and transparency of the judiciary system.

Along with Grassley, Klobuchar and Leahy, the bill is cosponsored by senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Text of the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act is available HERE.

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