Television Cameras and Other Media in Courtrooms

Use of television cameras and other communications media in courtrooms raise questions of how to fairly balance every individual's right to a fair trial with the public's right to know what is happening in courts. Activities ask you to analyze whether still photographs or live streaming should be allowed in judicial courtrooms, and if so, when and how should Supreme Court or other court proceedings should be televised or live streamed.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 2020), for the first time in history, the Supreme Court announced it would make publicly available an audio feed of oral arguments between lawyers and the justices, which were being conducted by telephone conference calls. Before that, no audio/video recording, photography, or television/live streaming had been allowed in the Supreme Court's courtroom.

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Since 1996, a small number of federal courts of appeals and district courts have begun allowing photography and television coverage of oral arguments (SCOTUS blog, April 27, 2020).

Many lawmakers, lawyers, and members of the public believe cameras and television should be allowed in the Supreme Court and other courtrooms, while other people are unwilling to depart from historical precedent. The first bill to allow cameras in federal courts was introduced in 1937. C-Span (Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network) began broadcasting the House of Representatives in 1979 and the Senate in 1986.

Presently, Congress is considering the Cameras in the Courtroom Act, introduced in 2019 and now the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act (2023) which would permit television coverage of all open sessions of the Supreme Court, unless a majority of the Justices voted otherwise in order to protect the rights of those involved in a case. For background, Grassley Renews Bipartisan Push to Put Cameras in Federal, Supreme Courts (March 6, 2023).

Activity 1: Analyze the Implications of Cameras in Courtrooms

Conduct research, including Internet research and surveying friends and family, for one or more of the following prompts: 

Based on your findings, write an opinion piece for your school or local newsletter about whether there should be cameras allowed in the Supreme Court courtroom.

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Analyze the Implications of Cameras in the Courtroom by Lisbel Vargas

Activity 2: Design a Format for Future Supreme Court TV Coverage

Begin by watching C-Span coverage of the House and Senate to see one model for broadcasting the activities of the legislative branch of government. Pay attention to camera angles, audio, captions, and other features of the broadcast.

Design a proposal for how you would produce a TV broadcast of the Supreme Court oral arguments.  

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Design a Format for Future Supreme Court TV Coverage by Megan Griffin

Connecting to the Building Democracy for All eBook

Building Democracy for All: Landmark First Amendment Rights Cases

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Research, analyze and report orally or in writing on one area in which Supreme Court Decisions have made significant changes over time in citizens’ lives. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T5.6]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for the intended audiences.
  • DLCS Standards
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.5
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7

This content is provided to you freely by Equity Press.

Access it online or download it at https://equitypress.org/mediaandciviclearning/courtroom_cameras.