March 18, 2021

Durbin, Grassley Introduce Bill to Put Cameras in Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation today to require open proceedings of the Supreme Court to be televised.  The bipartisan Cameras in the Courtroom Act would require the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of all open sessions of the Court, unless the Court decides, by a majority vote of the Justices, that doing so would constitute a violation of the due process rights of one or more of the parties before the Court.  Today’s bill introduction coincides with “Sunshine Week,” a national initiative aimed at promoting a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. 

“It’s time to put cameras in the Supreme Court so Americans can finally see deliberations and rulings on cases which will affect them for generations to come. This bipartisan bill shines a light into the Judicial Branch of government so more than just a few hundred lucky Americans can watch proceedings in the Court’s historic halls,” Durbin said.

“Decisions made by the Supreme Court can resonate with our nation for generations, yet most Americans will never have a chance to see the highest court in action. Opening up the Supreme Court’s public proceedings to cameras and other broadcast tools provides a window into the court for all Americans, not just those in Washington, D.C. I’m proud to support this legislation especially as we celebrate Sunshine Week,” Grassley said.

Live audio streaming of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments during the COVID-19 pandemic has been successful, but the Court has not indicated whether it intends to maintain this policy once it is able to conduct in-person proceedings again.

Along with Durbin and Grassley, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are cosponsoring the Cameras in the Courtroom Act. 

The Cameras in the Courtroom Act only applies to open sessions of the Supreme Court – sessions where members of the public are already invited to observe in person, but often cannot because there are a very limited number of unreserved seats in the Courtroom.  Allowing public scrutiny of Supreme Court proceedings would produce greater accountability, transparency, and understanding of our judicial system. 

In 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report highlighting the value of broadcasting video and audio coverage of Supreme Court and other appellate court proceedings.  The report cites stakeholders who state that the benefits of such coverage include enhancing public access to the courts, educating the public on the judiciary, and providing a useful window into how courts think about the issues in a case.

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