The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday passed two broadcaster-friendly bills that take federal trial courts one step closer to televised coverage.
One bill, sponsored by Committee Chairman Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), would permit TV coverage of the Supreme Court unless a court majority concludes that coverage would violate due process. The other, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, backed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) would also allow coverage of Supreme Court oral arguments, but would also give authority to the presiding judge in federal district and appellate courts to allow TV coverage.
The bills now go to the Senate floor, with scheduling up to Majority Leader Bill Frist.
The Radio-Television News Directors Association is understandably pleased and is preparing to send their members a template of a "Dear Senator" letter in support of the bills.
According to RTNDA, the House in November passed H.R. 1751, the Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act, which incporporates some of the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act.
"It seems to me that the 'cameras in the court' issue has gotten some momentum," Says RTNDA President Barbara Cochran. "I think that members of Congress are becoming more interested in introducing TV and radio coverage aas a way of holding the federal judiciary more accountable."
Cochran wouldn't handicap the bills' chances of final passage, but said that, while in the past similar bills have succeeded in either the House or Senate, this is the first time it is moving forward in both houses.
C-SPAN Corporate Vice President Bruce Collins was not as sanguine on the prospects. “These bills indicate at least Congress is interested in opening up the federal judiciary by televising court proceedings, and C-SPAN agrees with that goal," he said in a statement, "But it is also clear to us that the federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court, are much less interested in allowing camera coverage,” he said.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has said he will keep an open mind on cameras, having been shepherded through the nomination process by TV-friendly Senator Fred Thompson (Law & Order).
New Justice Samuel Alito said during his confirmation hearings that he permitted TV as a circuit judge.