This Congress, we have introduced bipartisan legislation, the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011. This bill would permit television coverage of all open sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court unless a majority of justices decide that allowing coverage of a particular case would violate the due process rights of a party appearing before the Court. A simple, non-intrusive C-SPAN-type camera would bring a higher degree of transparency and accountability to the High Court. This is not a Democratic or Republican bill. It is a bill that seeks to shed light into the High Court’s deliberations and to give the public direct access to the arguments that come before the Supreme Court on this and other constitutional issues that impact everyone. It would provide Americans with a clear view of the Court’s proceedings, unfettered by the filter of the media and other observers.

For years Americans have been able to watch Congress live from the comfort of their own couch. People have the ability to be engaged in the policymaking process as we debate legislation on the House floor. C-SPAN keeps citizens informed of what is happening on Capitol Hill on an up-to-the-minute basis.  Giving the people we work for – our constituents – a chance to watch and decide for themselves whether or not they like what they see enhances the democratic process.
We know cameras can be placed in a courtroom without disruption because we are already doing it in other courts. Congressman Poe was one of the first judges in Texas to allow cameras in a courtroom to film criminal trials, including a capital murder case. The theory behind public court proceedings is that the more public and open, the more likely they are to be fair. He found that this enhanced the concept of a fair public trial. Those who have never been a trial lawyer or a trial judge say that lawyers play to the cameras; however, despite the argument made by Charles Lane in this space on Monday, lawyers don’t play to the cameras for an audience at home, they play to the jury or to the judge. In the case of the Supreme Court, such actions would be demeaning to the history and institution of the Court itself.
It’s time to give the American public the opportunity to see the most important court in the world in action. The American people should have the chance to see how the consequential decisions made by the High Court are made.  A government of the people, by the people and for the people cannot be for just those select few who can come to Washington and are able to see the Supreme Court in-person. This is truly the people’s court and, as such, it should be accessible to all.

Rep. Connolly (D-Va) is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Before coming to Congress, he served for 14 years on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors where every single Board meeting was televised and broadcast live for his constituents.

Rep. Poe (R-Texas) is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Before coming to Congress, he served as a Judge in Harris County for over twenty years and was one of the first judges in Texas to allow cameras in the courtroom.