Democrats press for cameras in federal court

September 18, 2023

Democrats are increasing their advocacy for a bipartisan bill that would allow cameras into the nation’s nearly 100 federal criminal court systems, CBS reported Sunday evening.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) was first introduced in March—before former President Trump was facing four separate criminal prosecutions at both the federal level and at the state level in Georgia and New York.

At the time, the two Senators pushed their proposal by saying, “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.”

Currently, Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-MD) has told CBS News, “There’s no substitute for people seeing proceedings for themselves and drawing their own conclusion.”

In a separate effort, a coalition of three dozen House Democrats has written a letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversees federal court procedures, seeking a change of policy specifically to allow cameras in the courts during any federal prosecution of Trump. 

“Given the historic nature of the charges brought forth in these cases, it is hard to imagine a more powerful circumstance for televised proceedings,” the letter stated. “If the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be vitally important for it to witness, as directly as possible, how the trials are conducted, the strength of the evidence adduced and the credibility of witnesses.”

At the state level, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has said that all court proceedings regarding Trump and his 18 co-defendants related to the 2020 federal election in Georgia will be televised via live stream.

However, the decision to televise federal trials—or not—is up to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his role as head of the Federal Judicial Conference.

In his annual report on the federal judiciary in 2022, Roberts did not address the ongoing efforts to allow camera access in courthouses.

However, in 2018 at the Federal Judicial Conference of the Fourth Circuit, while referring to a question about televising Supreme Court proceedings, Roberts stated, “Television changes a lot….Changing something as dramatically as televising the proceedings I think would be harmful.”

But Ivey has countered that cameras in in federal criminal courts would prevent perceptions of bias in the news coverage of the Trump trials. “I think it’s the only antidote to the acrimonious theater that you’re going to get otherwise,” he said. “You don’t have many news sources that are viewed as independent anymore, rightly or wrongly.”

PHOTO: E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in DC

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