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,, 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,, 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”

To view the ad, visit

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].




YouTube: petition:​

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 »

Supreme Court Rejects Case Advocating Extension of Press Access to Polls

June 11th, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , ,

The Supreme Court has refused to hear a Pennsylvania newspaper’s challenge of a state law that denies journalists access to polling places on Election Day.

The publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had asked the Supreme Court to review a circuit court decision that upheld a Pennsylvania law which prohibits anyone other than police officers, election officials and voters from coming within ten feet of a polling place on Election Day.  Though few states have laws on the books expressly prohibiting all recording inside polling places, most have issued written official statements limiting such access, according to the Digital Media Law Project.

The Post-Gazette initially challenged the law ahead of last November’s elections, in anticipation of the implementation of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law.  Critics of the voter ID law contended that it would be used to selectively disenfranchise voters, and that media presence at polling places would combat such abuses.

Ironically, the voter ID requirement was essentially scrapped in the weeks prior to Election Day after succumbing to legal challenges in state court.  Nonetheless, the Post-Gazette’s suit raises an interesting question: do members of the media have a constitutional right to gather news inside polling places?

The short answer, at least according to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, is no.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court has recognized independent protections for “some news-gathering activity,” the Third Circuit noted that the Constitution does not require the government to grant the press special access to information not available to the general public.  (Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 681 (1972))

When determining whether the press should be granted access to a particular venue, judges balance the government’s interest in limiting access, against First Amendment concerns for the free exchange of ideas.  To do this, courts consider whether a particular place has historically been open to the press, and whether public access plays an important roll in the activity in question.

Co-Director of the Center for Media Law and Policy at the University of North Carolina David Ardia told the NPPA this case will be a difficult one for press advocates to win. “From the perspective of someone who is in favor of greater access, I think that this a tough issue to expect the Supreme Court to find there is a right of access,” Ardia said, adding “Arguments on the government’s side are very strong.  There can’t be a more compelling government interest than preventing interference with voting.”

The Third Circuit found that the press has not historically enjoyed access to polling places on Election Day, observing that the U.S. has used the secret ballot method of voting since the mid to late 1800’s.

While it conceded that media presence at the polls might combat fraud or “other electoral evils”, the court found that reporters might also frighten or intimidate voters.  Additionally, the Third Circuit worried that press access, once granted, might prove prohibitively broad in scope.  That problem, the court said, arises from the fact that granting one organization access essentially means granting all organizations access.  It’s an issue that’s compounded by the rise of citizen journalism, a phenomenon that continues to blur the line between professional and non-professional media.

Considered together, the court found these factors suggest that journalists do not have a First Amendment right to access polling places on Election Day.  But until the Supreme Court takes a case involving such a situation, a definitive answer will remain elusive.

Professor Ardia says that might be a plus for those who favor greater access, noting that “rushing to get the Supreme court to address this issue could end negatively.”  The high court prefers to have the benefit of a rich background of lower court decisions.  For that reason, Ardia says, “it may be a benefit for more time to pass as more appellate courts find and identify these rights.”

Framing the goal of press access broadly also may strengthen the argument for its extension, Ardia adds. “We’ve gathered a tremendous amount of data to support the argument that the transparency around the functioning of polling places is essential.”

Ultimately, Ardia concludes, “I’m not sure anyone is arguing that there shouldn’t be any limits at all.”  The questions moving forward then are those of scope: how much press access is needed, and how does the law balance those against government’s interest in overseeing efficient elections?

These are questions that will be answered as case law, and the societal and technological changes that drive it, continues to evolve.

Posted in Access, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Legal, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | No Comments »

ACLU v Alvarez – Will the Supreme Court Hear the Case?

July 11th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , ,

As you may recall, last week I updated the case of ACLU v Alvarez regarding the constitutionality of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act (the Act) which makes it a crime to audio record police officers without their permission while they are performing their official duties in a public place.

Well now a case that appeared to be over – isn’t. After a motion hearing, held on July 3, 2012, newly reassigned District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman granted the ACLU motion for the preliminary injunction and entry of amended complaint in compliance with the Seventh Circuit’s May 8, 2012 opinion. This has the effect of enjoining the State’s Attorney (or anyone else in Illinois) from prosecuting the ACLU or its employees under the Act “for openly audio recording police officers, and civilians talking to such officers, without the consent of the officers and civilians when (a) the officers are performing their public duties, (b) the officers are in public places, (c) the officers are speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted ear of the person making the recording, and (d) the manner of recording is otherwise lawful.” While the language of the preliminary injunction specifically protects only the ACLU, one would hope that the state would also refrain from prosecuting anyone else under the Act, but given Ms. Alvarez’ dogged pursuit of this matter there is no guarantee.

The judge also heard arguments regarding State Attorney Alvarez’ motion to stay the proceedings while she seeks appeal from the United States Supreme Court. motion to stay “that that there is a reasonable probability that four [Supreme Court] justices will consider the issue sufficiently meritorious to grant certiorari, Judge Coleman granted the stay pending the filing the Writ of Certiorari.

In explaining her decision the Court took notice of the Seventh Circuit’s opinion finding the Act “an outlier in the country because it has no expectation of privacy provision and instead prohibits all non-consensual recordings.” But she also took note that “the Court has not considered the precise issues here – whether the police have any legitimate privacy interest in their public statements and activities while on duty, which is precisely why the Court may choose to hear the case.” Judge Coleman further rationalized that “while it may be likely that the Supreme Court will affirm the Seventh Circuit’s decision, it would likely do so with greater finality and expediency than if this matter proceeds in this Court and through a second appeal to the Seventh Circuit.” She also struck a proper balance by protecting both parties rights, finding that during the stay “Alvarez will not suffer any harm by not prosecuting anyone under this statute” while “the ACLU has the benefit of a preliminary injunction protecting their activities and precluding prosecution under the Act.”

She has scheduled a status hearing for 10/29/2012 at 9:00 a.m. And so the saga continues.

Posted in ACLU v Alvarez, Chicago, Chicago Police, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Illinois, Illinois ACLU, Illinois Eavesdropping Law, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Photographers' Rights, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, US COurt of Appeals for the 7th Circuit | No Comments »

ACLU v Alvarez: The Case Continues

July 5th, 2012 by Mickey Osterreicher and tagged , , , , , , , ,

For those of you following the case of ACLU v Alvarez regarding the constitutionality of the Illinois Eavesdropping act the case is far from over despite the opinion by the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit on May 8, 2012.

Three days later, Appellee Anita Alvarez filed a motion to extend time to file a petition for rehearing and the ACLU filed a response in opposition. Interestingly enough, both parties used the approaching NATO Summit as the justification for their motion: the State’s Attorney, because her staff was busy preparing for it; and the ACLU, because it wished the preliminary injunction immediately put into effect to prevent the enforcement of the Act during the Summit. On May 15, 2012 the court granted the motion to extend the time to file and on May 29, 2012 in accordance with that order the Appellee filed a petition for an en banc rehearing.

As part of its petition, the State’s Attorney claimed that “[t]he panel majority decision . . . creates [an] unlimited First Amendment right of the public to engage in audio-recording and surveillance of public officials encountering private civilians regardless of whether the persons speaking consent to such recording.” Arguing that the Act “requires the recorder to obtain consent from the putative speakers as a prerequisite to recording,” the State’s Attorney maintains that the Act ultimately “regulates conduct (i.e., failing to obtain consent) not speech.”

Following denial of that motion by the 7th Circuit on June 14, 2012 and the transfer of the case to District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, the ACLU filed for entry of its amended complaint and for the implementation of the preliminary injunction on June 25, 2012. The next day it moved for summary judgment. Not surprisingly, on June 28, 2012 the State’s Attorney once again moved “to stay all proceedings in the District Court so that State’s Attorney Alvarez may prepare and file a petition for writ of certiorari in the instant case to the United States Supreme Court. Alternatively, State’s Attorney Alvarez moves to stay briefing of Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and allow discovery.”

The ACLU entered its opposition to that motion on July 2, 2012, asserting that “Alvarez does not meet any of the requirements for a stay pending the filing and disposition of a writ of certiorari;” and citing Hollingsworth v. Perry, 130 S. Ct. 705 (2010) for the proposition that “To obtain a stay pending the filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari, an applicant must show (1) a reasonable probability that four Justices will consider the issue sufficiently meritorious to grant certiorari; (2) a fair prospect that a majority of the Court will vote to reverse the judgment below; and (3) a likelihood that irreparable harm will result from the denial of a stay.”

Among other things, the ACLU argued that the State’s Attorney cannot “meet her burden of proving . . . a reasonable probability that four Justices will vote to grant certiorari;” “that she cannot meet her separate burden of proving ‘a likelihood that irreparable harm will result from the denial of a stay;’” and that she did not articulate with specificity (or in any way whatsoever) facts necessary to overcome  a motion for summary judgment.

Stay tuned for further developments in this ongoing case.

Posted in ACLU v Alvarez, Certiorari, Chicago, Chicago Police, Federal Court, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Illinois, Illinois ACLU, Illinois Eavesdropping Law, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, Recording, Recording Police, US COurt of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, US Supreme Court | No Comments »