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Durbin, Grassley Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Televise Supreme Court Proceedings in Real Time

The Cameras in the Courtroom Act would require open proceedings of the Supreme Court to be televised with exceptions for due process, coincides with “Sunshine Week” to promote open government and freedom of information

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) led a group of their colleagues in re-introducing the bipartisan Cameras in the Courtroom Act today.

The legislation, which advanced out of the Judiciary Committee last Congress on a bipartisan 15-7 vote, would require the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of all open Court sessions, unless the Court decides by a majority vote of Justices that television coverage would violate due process rights of a party before the Court.  Today’s bill introduction coincides with National Sunshine Week, which seeks to educate the public about the importance of open government.

“Rulings made by Justices in our nation’s highest court impact the lives of every American, regardless of zip code. We see an ever-apparent interest for the American people to be able to witness the highest court’s proceedings, from seemingly routine sessions to oral arguments in high-profile cases like Dobbs and Bruen, for example. As trust in the Supreme Court hovers near all-time lows, shining a light into the Supreme Court chamber would increase transparency, strengthen democracy, and help inform Americans of issues at the forefront of their government. I thank Senator Grassley for his continued partnership on this bipartisan cause,” said Durbin.

“The judicial branch has a massive impact on our daily lives and the lives of generations to come, yet few Americans ever get the chance to see inside the legal process,” Grassley said. “Allowing cameras access to Supreme Court would be a victory for transparency and would help the American people grow in confidence and understanding of the judiciary.” 

Historically, oral arguments and other sessions of the Supreme Court are only open to the public in person and on a first-come basis. Those not fortunate enough to get a seat in the Courtroom in the past have had to wait for secondhand accounts from reporters, read transcripts, or listen to audio recordings released later – along with the millions of other Americans who still ought to be able to see and hear these discussions on issues at the forefront of government. In May 2020, the Supreme Court held oral arguments remotely and made the live audio available for the public for the first time as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic—a successful process that has continued since returning to in-person proceedings. However, video of the proceedings remains unavailable.

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.

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also co-sponsored the legislation.

This bill is also accompanied by the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act in introduction, led by Grassley and Klobuchar and co-sponsored by Durbin. Also advanced by the Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan vote last Congress, the bill would permit coverage of all open federal court proceedings beyond just the Supreme Court.