On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to favorably report a bill that would require the Supreme Court to allow television coverage of its arguments (S. 1945). Currently, only a limited number of citizens are able to see the court’s sessions in person. Audio files of proceedings are released after the fact, but are not available in real time.
The vote, split mostly along party lines, was 11-7. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) broke from her Democratic colleagues to vote against the bill, arguing that Supreme Court justices are opposed to the measure and the Senate should not be imposing its will on them. She also warned that televising the court’s arguments could lead to showboating. Two Republicans, Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (IA), an original cosponsor of the bill, and Senator John Cornyn (TX), voted in favor of passage.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) argued that democracy works best when Americans have access to and knowledge of government proceedings. Several Senators echoed his comments.
The bill has been reported to the full Senate and will await a vote. A companion bill, the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011 (H.R. 3572), has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for review.
The Sunlight Foundation has previously suggested some improvements that the Supreme Court could make to its website to increase the usability and accessibility of its information.
Policy Fellow Matt Rumsey wrote this post.