June 24, 2021

Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Durbin, Grassley Bill to Put Cameras in Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15-7 to advance the bipartisan Cameras in the Courtroom Act, introduced by 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. The bipartisan bill 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. 

“The Supreme Court routinely issues decisions that affect America for generations to come.  Americans deserve the opportunity to witness deliberations and rulings on these cases, which is why the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance our bill that puts cameras in the Supreme Court. Shining a light into the Court’s historic halls increases transparency, strengthens democracy, and informs citizens of the issues at the forefront of their government,” Durbin and 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), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) 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 cited stakeholders who stated 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.

The Committee also advanced the bipartisan Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, introduced by Ranking Member Grassley and Senator Klobuchar and cosponsored by Chair Durbin and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Blumenthal, Leahy, and Ed Markey (D-MA). That bill would give federal judges, at both the district court and appellate court level, the discretion to allow cameras in the courtroom to televise proceedings, with a number of protections in place to protect witnesses, jurors, and due process considerations.

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