Hidden camera footage of what appeared to be Supreme Court proceedings from earlier this week surfaced on Thursday, offering one the of the first public recordings of the High Court's proceedings.
A video posted on YouTube and recorded by 99 Rise, a group that supports tougher campaign finance laws, shows proceedings leading up to and during a rare protest that took place in the court Wednesday.
“I rise on behalf of the vast majority of American people who believe that money is not speech, corporations are not people, and our democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder,” Newkirk shouts during Wednesday's oral arguments.
The beginning of the video appears to show the oral arguments from 2013 dealing with an undecided campaign finance case known as McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, which asks whether the cap on the total amount of money a person can donate to candidates and party committees during an election cycle is constitutional.
About a minute into the video, it appears to cut to Newkirk’s protest in the court this week.
“Overturn Citizens United. Keep the cap on McCutcheon,” Newkirk states.
The high court does not allow the media or the public to enter the chamber with electronic recording devices, video or otherwise.
While it does grant access to the public and releases delayed audio recordings of oral arguments, it has resisted calls to allow cameras inside.
In an interview with The Hill, Newkirk would not describe the type of camera used or his colleague’s name who shot the footage, but did confirm his group is responsible for the YouTube video. To his knowledge, his group had only filmed in the court twice.
He said he and his colleague entered the courtroom just like any other member of the public. The public must go through metal detectors before entering the court and are supposed to store all electronic devices in cubbies outside the chamber.
They went inside Wednesday believing the decision in the McCutcheon case could be decided then. It untimely was not.
Newkirk’s group does not have plans for any other protests or recordings later this year, but he did not rule it out.
“We don’t rule out any nonviolent action that represents the will of the vast majority of people and show the moral urgency of this fight,” he said.
Newkirk said he realized the unprecedented video footage has in some ways dwarfed the group’s original message, but said the court’s campaign finance decisions are the bigger issue.
“A part of it is that it is awesome and historic to get video for the first time of a protest in the Supreme Court, which is extremely rare in and of itself,” he said. “But we feel like what is really important and historic, and what needs to be focused on, is these outrageous decision that the supreme court has made [and could make]."
He added: “If pulling off something with a hidden camera can help elevate that broader story, or me going to jail, that would be great.”
Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said the court is aware of the video and “is in the process of reviewing the video and our courtroom screening procedures.”
While bringing a camera into the courtroom violates the court's rules, it does not appear that there is a law associated with that rule in which an individual could be charged.
Numerous groups, including C-SPAN, have called for the court to open itself up to cameras. But some of the justices have warned cameras could diminish nuanced oral arguments into sound bites.
Newkirk said he does not see any reason why they are still restricted today.
“If having them on video and making all their deliberations and sessions viewable by video would in any way make them take more seriously how the public sees and feels about what they are doing would be great,” he said. “But what we need to focus on we believe is the impact of these decision for our democracy.”
This story was updated at 12:54 p.m.