The Coalition for Court Transparency, which includes the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, marked the 50th anniversary of the momentous press freedom case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan by sending a letter to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to take another historic action on behalf of press freedom by allowing for video broadcast of hearings at the High Court.
“This Court has long supported the First Amendment presumption that court proceedings should be open to the public,” the letter states. “Greater openness” – such as broadcasting oral arguments – “fosters confidence in the judicial system and encourages dialogue about public issues.”
Further, the coalition writes, “Video would serve an important civic benefit, as it would be an incredible platform for legal education and future students of history, rhetoric and political science. As it stands now, only a few hundred individuals can fit into the courtroom at One First Street, so many people hoping to view the arguments are unable to, especially in cases that have broad public interest.”
All 50 state supreme courts have more modern broadcasting guidelines than the U.S. Supreme Court, and the highest courts in a number of democratic nations around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, allow cameras to record their hearings. Justices who preside over courts that allow videotaping and broadcasting report that they have experienced few, if any, instances of grandstanding among the attorneys or their fellow justices – or of journalists using sound bites that do not accurately capture the proceedings.
The letter suggests an interim step before allowing video: the release of same-day audio for all oral arguments. “Providing audio on the day a hearing occurs would increase public understanding of the Court by ensuring that reporters could use it in their stories when news of each argument is still fresh,” the letter states.
The letter concludes with a direct appeal to the Chief Justice regarding the prestige of the High Court: “At a time when faith in our public officials is waning and the American public is increasingly disillusioned with political institutions, you have an opportunity to fill this vacuum of leadership.”