A bipartisan group of senators is renewing the legislative effort to televise Supreme Court proceedings.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, Charles Grassley, of Iowa, on Thursday introduced the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2013.
The legislation was introduced as the court prepares to rule on several key cases, including decisions on voting rights and affirmative action.
“Over the next several days, the Supreme Court will announce opinions in some of the most closely watched cases in a generation,” Durbin said Thursday. “People of reasonable minds may disagree on the proper outcome of these cases and others, but we can all agree that the American public deserves the opportunity to see firsthand the arguments and opinions that will shape their society for years to come.”
The bill would require “television coverage of all open sessions of the court” unless a majority of the Justices agree that the cameras would violate the due process rights of those arguing a case.
Durbin and Grassley said televising the proceedings would give the public better access to the decision-making process. Few people are now able to watch court proceedings because so few seats are open to the public. Only audio recordings of the court debates are made available to the public and they not released until the end of each week of oral arguments.
Congress has been pushing for televised court proceedings since 1999, when Grassley first attempted to put cameras in the courtroom. Durbin and Grassley introduced a similar measure in the last Congress but it never made it to the floor for a vote.
The justices have mostly resisted the idea of televising Supreme Court proceedings.
In March, Justice Anthony Kennedy told a House Appropriations panel that the public is meant to be informed through the written opinions of the court, not TV.
The justice said TV cameras would create “an insidious dynamic” that might influence what kind of questions he asks during court proceedings.
Grassley said Thursday that cameras would bring “accountability, transparency and openness.”
Backers of the bill include Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Jon Cornyn, R-Texas and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has not committed to bringing the bill to the floor, but Durbin, as the chamber's No. 2 Democrat, could persuade him to allow a vote.
Even if Congress approves the legislation, however, the courts would have to decide the constitutional question about whether the legislature can force the judiciary to install cameras.
C-Span has for years lobbied unsuccessfully to place cameras in the courtroom.