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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, a new alliance of media and legal organizations from across the political spectrum Tuesday launched an ad campaign calling on the justices to allow cameras to televise oral arguments.

The alliance, the Coalition for Court Transparency, is taking the unprecedented step of using a television ad to draw attention to the lack of transparency in this powerful branch of government and urge the justices to change this outdated restriction.

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 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 250 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.

The Coalition for Court Transparency comprises seven media organizations, American Society of News Editors, National Association of Broadcasters, National Press Foundation, National Press Photographers Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Society of Professional Journalists; and four legal and pro-transparency groups, Alliance for Justice, Constitutional Accountability Center, Liberty Coalition and OpenTheGovernment.org.

"When you think about the most widely followed cases of the last year, litigants hailed from California (Hollingsworth v. Perry), Oklahoma (Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius) and Alabama (Shelby Co. v. Holder)," said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a coalition member.

"The idea that these individuals, and other concerned parties from across the country, would have to fly to Washington, find a hotel, and stand in line for hours - or pay someone to do so - just to see justice in action shows how far the Court needs to come to get more in step with technology and transparency today."


"The idea that such a fundamental function of our judiciary is hidden from the vast majority of the American public does not comport with 21st century expectations of transparency, no matter what your political leaning," said Michael Ostrolenk, co-founder and national director of the Liberty Coalition, a CCT member.

"At a time when the public's confidence in the Supreme Court is eroding, and skepticism in secretive government institutions is high, putting cameras in the Court would be a simple way to help restore the Court's image."


"There's nothing the government does that's more impressive than the high-quality debates that take place before the Supreme Court," said Doug Kendall, president of Constitutional Accountability Center, a coalition member, and member of the Supreme Court Bar.

"The American people, regardless of where they live, deserve to see the fullness of Supreme Court arguments in real time. Yet the Court even limits access to argument audio, picking and choosing just a few cases each term for same-day release while holding audio for the rest until the end of the week.

"This puts the Court in the awkward position of judging even before argument day which cases are more important than others. Putting cameras in the Court would mitigate this problem and allow Americans to watch the highest level of debate on issues that affect them."


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.


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.


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 19, 2014

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