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Coalition For Court Transparency Requests Live Broadcast Of Same-Sex Marriage Cases In Letter To Chief Justice Roberts

January 28th, 2015 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , ,

January 28, 2015 – Washington, D.C. — In a letter to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, the Coalition for Court Transparency today requested “that audio-visual coverage of oral arguments in the same-sex marriage cases be broadcast live, enabling the world to witness history as it happens.”

“We hope that the Court takes this historic moment as an opportunity to move into a new era of openness by permitting live audio-visual coverage of the arguments in the same-sex marriage cases,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.

In addition to the historical nature of the cases, the Coalition highlighted how this act of transparency could burnish the Court’s reputation.

“In our modern era, an institution’s legitimacy is often driven by the public’s perception of its openness and transparency,” the letter said. “When decisions are made in cases that provoke strong emotions, transparency allows the public to be assured that the process was fair and that the institution is functioning properly. Simply put: televising the oral arguments will ultimately strengthen the public’s perception of the Court by imbuing its result with greater legitimacy.”

“Recent polling shows three-quarters of Americans support televising Supreme Court proceedings,” said Alex Armstrong, spokesperson for the Coalition. “Oral arguments in the upcoming marriage cases will be historic, and the whole nation will be eager to follow along. There’s no better time to turn on the cameras.”

The full letter is can be read OpenSCOTUS_Letter 01-27-15

Posted in Access, Cameras in the Courtroom, Coalition for Court Transparency, First Amendment, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, SCOTUS, US Supreme Court | No Comments »

NPPA Discouraged by SCOTUS Continued Refusal to Allow Cameras in Its Courtroom

March 25th, 2014 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , ,

Unfortunately the U.S. Supreme Court continues to refuse to change its position on cameras in its courtroom.  The Coalition for Court Transparency recently sent a letter to the Chief Justice requesting him to reconsider the High Court’s longstanding policy barring audio-visual coverage of its proceedings. The Court’s Public Information Officer timely responded by saying “there are no plans to change the Court’s current practices” whereby they will continue to make audio recordings of all oral arguments available on the Court’s website “at the end of each argument week” and written transcripts of those arguments “on the same day the argument is heard.” r

NPPA Executive Director Charles W.L. (“Chip”) Deale, reacted to the Court’s letter by stating, “NPPA is grateful that the Supreme Court at least showed the courtesy of responding to a letter from the Coalition for Court Transparency (of which NPPA is a member) calling for cameras to be allowed during Court proceedings. However, the Court’s continued intransigence on this important issue is highly discouraging and, NPPA believes, a disservice to American citizens.  Via the Coalition, NPPA will continue to advocate for greater transparency by the Court.”

Responding for the Coalition, Bruce Brown of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, to whom the court’s letter was addressed, said: “I am appreciative that the Supreme Court responded to our coalition’s letter. I do believe that the smallest of changes to the court’s institutional practices would increase the public’s understanding of and appreciation for the court’s work. I hope that this marks the beginning of a dialogue between the court and those of us who care deeply about press freedom and increasing transparency at our most important judicial institution.”

Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director said, “RTDNA is very disappointed in the Supreme Court’s reluctance to even consider further our request to provide more transparency,” added .  “We firmly believe the actions taken by the Court are of sufficient importance and impact to all Americans to warrant providing video coverage of the arguments the Justices hear.”

As the Coalition stated in its letter to Chief Justice Roberts, “we believe the Supreme Court should embrace contemporary expectations of transparency by public officials and allow the recording and broadcast of its courtroom proceedings. Following Justice John Marshall Harlan’s concurrence in Estes v. Texas (1965), we believe the ‘day’ has long since passed ‘when television [has] become so commonplace an affair in the daily life of the average person as to dissipate all reasonable likelihood that its use in courtrooms may disparage the judicial process.’”

Posted in Access, Cameras in the Courtroom, Coalition for Court Transparency, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, NPPA, Open Government, OpenSCOTUS, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, SCOTUS, US Supreme Court | No Comments »

NPPA Joins Coalition for Court Transparency

February 18th, 2014 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) announced that it had joined the Coalition for Court Transparency (CCT). Citing long lines outside the Supreme Court and the millions of Americans who are interested in, and affected by, the Court’s decisions but unable to see cases being argued, this new alliance of media and legal organizations from across the political spectrum today launched a television ad campaign calling on the justices to allow cameras to televise oral arguments.

The Coalition is taking the unprecedented step of using an ad campaign to draw attention to the lack of transparency in this powerful branch of government and to urge the Justices to change this outdated restriction.

“NPPA strongly believes in greater transparency at the U.S. Supreme Court.  Our support of the bipartisan coalition underscores our belief that the collective voice of CCT-member organizations ultimately can bring about the necessary changes in court policy,” said NPPA president Mark J. Dolan.

While Congress has debated bipartisan, bicameral bills intended to compel Supreme Court justices to allow cameras over the last 15 years, legal experts agree that the justices could simply decide today to allow cameras – and Monday’s cases regarding the Environment Protection Agency and its authority to address greenhouse gas pollution would be televised. In the past C-SPAN officials have stated that the station would broadcast all of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments if allowed.

Currently, to attend Supreme Court hearings, individuals must stand in line outside the building on First Street NE and wait to be ushered in. There are roughly 400 seats in the courtroom, so many people hoping to view the arguments are unable to, especially in cases that have broad public interest, such as the marriage equality, voting rights, and affirmative action cases last term and the campaign finance, recess appointments, and public prayer cases this term. For these types of cases, interested parties must often line up hours, if not days, in advance of the arguments and in some instances pay thousands of dollars to “line-standers” to hold their places for them.

In addition to NPPA, members of the Coalition for Court Transparency are: Alliance for Justice, American Society of News Editors, Constitutional Accountability Center, Liberty Coalition, National Association of Broadcasters, National Press Foundation, OpenTheGovernment.org, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Society for Professional Journalists.

“As one element in our democracy’s system of checks and balances, the U.S. Supreme Court is a vital institution that increasingly is growing in importance.  As such, NPPA believes that citizens have a right to view broadcasts of the court’s oral arguments and announcements of its opinions on cases,” said NPPA Executive Director Charles W. L. (“Chip”) Deale.

Despite the Supreme Court’s own reluctance on cameras, Americans have greater access to high-level judicial hearings elsewhere in the country. All 50 state supreme courts permit recording equipment to varying degrees, and on the federal level the Judicial Conference of the United States has placed cameras in 14 federal courts as part of a three-year, multi-district pilot program to study the effect of broadcasting federal court proceedings.

As the Voice of Visual Journalists since 1946, the NPPA has long advocated for cameras in the courtroom on the state and federal level as the lack of transparency erodes public confidence in the Court. Our general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, has written extensively about the subject and we believe the first way for the public to learn about and understand U.S. Supreme Court decisions is for citizens to be able to watch and hear those cases being announced by and argued before the court.

The ad, a 30-second television spot titled “Everywhere,” will run nearly 300 times in the Washington, D.C., market on cable news outlets over the next few weeks.   The Coalition also announced today that through its website, OpenSCOTUS.com, concerned Americans can sign an online petition calling on Chief Justice John Roberts to allow cameras in the Court.

“Everywhere” script

“The Supreme Court’s decisions impact the lives of Americans everywhere. But only a privileged few get to witness history and see justice in action. Leading Republicans and Democrats and a large majority of Americans support a simple fix – putting cameras in the Supreme Court. State and federal courts allow cameras in the interest of transparency. Shouldn’t our nation’s top court do the same? It’s time for a more open judiciary. It’s time for cameras in the Supreme Court. Find out more and take action at OpenSCOTUS.com.”

To view the ad, visit OpenSCOTUS.com.

For more information contact Mickey H. Osterreicher at 716.983.7800 or [email protected]

For more information about the Coalition for Court Transparency, please contact CCT spokesperson Gabe Roth at 202-464-6919 (office), 312-545-8556 (cell) or [email protected].

URL: http://www.OpenSCOTUS.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/OpenSCOTUS

Facebook: http://facebook.com/OpenSCOTUS

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/openscotus

Change.org petition:​ https://www.change.org/petitions/chief-justice-john-roberts-it-s-time-for-cameras-in-the-supreme-court-3

Posted in Access, broadcasting, Cameras in the Courtroom, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Open Government, photographers, photojournalism, SCOTUS, US Supreme Court, Visual Journalists | No Comments »

Senate to Consider Bill Favoring Cameras in U.S. Supreme Court

June 21st, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation Thursday that would require the Supreme Court to televise proceedings, just days before the high court is expected to hand down a series of major rulings.

The Supreme Court has just over a week to publish decisions on gay marriage, affirmative action, and the Voting Rights Act, some of the most contentiously litigated and publicly discussed issues of the day.

The Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2013 would require the Supreme Court to offer live television access of proceedings unless a majority of Justices agree that doing so would violate the due process rights of a party before the Court.  Currently, a written transcript of the proceedings is published each day the Court is session, and audio is posted at the end of the week.

In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this week, Senator Durbin argued the importance of increased transparency:

“The Court’s opinions in these cases will impact millions of individuals and the collective fabric of American life. Accordingly, it is not unreasonable for the American people to have an opportunity to hear firsthand the arguments and opinions that will shape their society for years to come.”

It’s not the first time someone has tried to pull back the curtain on the Supreme Court’s decision-making process.  Almost two decades ago, a question about the possibility of cameras in the courtroom led Justice David Souter to famously remark, “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

Opposition to cameras in the Court is centrally grounded in concerns that their presence will have a warping effect, either on the manner in which Justices consider cases, or the way the public perceives the Court.

Justice Antonin Scalia has openly worried that edited video clips from the Supreme Court would paint an inaccurate picture of what actually happens in chambers.  “For every one person who sees it on C-SPAN gavel to gavel so they can really understand what the court is about . . . 10,000 will see 15-second takeouts on the network news, which, I guarantee you, will be uncharacteristic of what the court does,” Scalia said in 2005.

NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher responded to such critiques in an article published in the Reynolds Courts & Media Law Journal.  “The federal judiciary must be mindful of its high power not to erect its own prejudices into judicial rules, Osterreicher observed, “Society can ill afford to let the misplaced and speculative objections of jurists antagonistic to the electronic press substantially undermine a fundamental constitutional right by lens-capping the very tools of the profession and eviscerating the very means by which most Americans receive their news.”

Not every Justice agrees that the Supreme Court is no place for cameras.  Justices Kagan and Sotomayor have made statements reflecting their support for the video recording of court proceedings, and in 2008 Chief Justice Roberts told NPPA Attorney Alicia Calzada that he was not opposed to the idea.  Regardless, the Supreme Court has not signaled any meaningful change in its official position.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has offered bills similar to Durbin and Grassley’s the past two Congresses; both died on the Senate floor.

Lawmakers’ inability to move on this issue is hardly surprising given the recent epidemic of inaction on Capitol Hill, and concerns over potential separation of powers conflicts may be tempering enthusiasm among some in Congress.

But cameras in the Supreme Court isn’t an issue that’s going away, nor should it be.

“The ability of the public to view actual courtroom trials should not be trivialized,” Osterreicher contends.  “That right, advanced by cameras in the courtroom, is the right of the people to monitor the official functions of their government.  Nothing is more fundamental to the democratic system of governance than this right of the people to know how their government is functioning on their behalf.”

You can access weekly updated audio of oral arguments here, while written transcripts are posted the same day the Court hears a case.

Posted in Access, Cameras, Cameras in the Courtroom, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Open Government, photographers, photojournalism, SCOTUS, US Supreme Court | No Comments »