On the eve of Sunshine Week, the Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly passed a bill Friday that would permit cameras in federal courts. Now it must go to the Senate floor for a vote.
Sunshine Week (March 16-22) is a journalist-backed initiative promoting open government and freedom of information.
The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act would not allow the televising of jurors, would not allow cameras if they violated due-process rights and would leave cameras up to the discretion of judges. It was also amended by voice vote Friday to add more protections for witnesses.
"It is excellent news," said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, which has been pushing for the legislation. "Certainly letting the public see what goes on with our legal system would be in keeping with Sunshine week," she said, adding that when she talks with Senate and House members, she hears fewer and fewer reasons for not bringing coverage to the federal judiciary.
"Right now," she said, "the public gets most of its ideas about how the judicial system operates from syndicated judge shows and dramas like Law & Order and Boston Legal. Allowing cameras in the court would give them a much truer sense of how our judicial system actually functions."
A similar bill already passed in the House and is awaiting a floor vote there.