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Cameras in federal courts 'inevitable.'

Cameras in federal courts |inevitable'

Armed with positive experiences in 44 states, buoyed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist's apparent support, and determined to prove correct Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's view that cameras in federal courts are "inevitable," the media are increasingly optimistic that the federal courts soon will be open to television and radio coverage.

While Rehnquist and the other members of the Supreme Court voted last November to continue the ban on cameras in the High Court, the chief justice recently indicated his apparent support for a proposal that would permit cameras and microphones in federal trial courts.

In response to a letter from Representative Robert Kastenmeier (D-Wis.) suggesting that federal trial courts experiment with cameras in the courtroom, the chief justice wrote that he was "by no means averse to the idea of the sort of experiment with television and radio coverage which you describe." Rehnquist, however, refused to commit himself before he receives the report of the Judicial Conference's Ad Hoc Committee on Cameras in the Courtroom, which is expected in September.

The Judicial Conference, the policy-making arm of the federal judiciary, ultimately will decide whether to allow cameras in federal courts. The conference is headed by the chief justice and composed of 25 other members.

The Society of Professional Journalists and other media groups long have worked to obtain camera access to the federal courts. Most recently, the groups submitted joint statements to the Judicial Conference's Ad Hoc Committee. The statements urged the committee to recommend to the entire conference that cameras be allowed in federal courts and highlighted the positive results of camera-in-court experiments in a number of states.

California, Florida, and New York generally are considered the leaders among states facilitating broadcast coverage of courts, but movements are under way in a number of other states to increase such coverage.

In Illinois, for example, the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and other groups recently petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for permission to use cameras and microphones in Illinois trial courts, while others limit broadcast coverage to appellate courts. The Illinois movement, coming after a major defeat in 1983, symbolizes a new-found hope among the media that the climate for allowing cameras in courtrooms has improved.

The optimism is encouraged by Rehnquist's recent letter, which Kastenmeier told The New York Times was "very promising." "I thought his lack of opposition sent an important message: that the [ad hoc] committee could rely on the fact that the chief justice and probably the Supreme Court would entertain any such rule change favorably," Kastenmeier added.

Another justice recently expressed his views on the subject to a group of high school students. Justice Kennedy, according to the Legal Times, noted that some justices feared losing their anonymity and expected that some lawyers would posture before the cameras. Nevertheless, Kennedy concluded, the use of cameras in the Supreme Court is "inevitable."

Bruce W. Sanford is SPJ's First Amendment counsel and a partner at Baker & Hostetler in Washington, D.C.

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Author:Sanford, Bruce W.
Publication:The Quill
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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