Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady told a U.S. Senate Judiciary committee this week that Iowa has had cameras in the courtroom for more than 30 years and it has never disrupted or interfered with the court proceedings.
The court had to discontinue recording oral arguments for a few years because of budget cuts and during that time, heard many “rumblings” from attorneys, the public, educators and others who missed the watching the proceedings and wanted it reinstated, Cady told the subcommittee.
“We realized our cameras had become a normal and expected component of our proceedings,” Cady said. “It is the way we do business, and the public likes it and has grown to expect it.”
Cady appeared before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts in support a bill, “Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2011,” introduced Monday by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
The bill would require television coverage of all open sessions of the Supreme Court, unless the court decides by a vote of the majority of justices, that it would violate due process rights of one or more of the parties appearing before the court. A similar bill was approved by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee last year.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Grassley said his interest in expanding the public’s access to the Supreme Court increased 11 years ago when the court heard the Florida recount arguments during the 2000 presidential election. According to a poll released last year, 62 percent of Americans believe they don’t hear enough about the workings of the court, he said.
“What could be a better source of the workings of the Supreme Court than the Supreme Court itself?” Grassley said.
Cady talked to the committee about how positive cameras in the courtroom had been in Iowa. The committee asked him questions mostly regarding how cameras affected court proceedings and about public interest.
Cady said in 1979, the Iowa Supreme Court adopted rules to allow expanded media coverage of court proceedings in both trial and appellate courts. There are rules which were carefully designed to prevent disruption and also to protect the rights of the litigants or defendants to a fair trial and appeal, he said.
Cady explained how the media has to file an EMC request to cover a proceeding. With these rules, the judges rarely have problems with coverage and the journalists who cover the courts respect the rules the rights of the litigants and defendants, he said.
“This process works so well that it has become expected,” Cady said. “Expanded media coverage of trials, particularly in high profile trials, is a matter of routine.”
Cady cited the interest in live streaming the court’s oral arguments, which started last summer. The court started recording the arguments in 2006 but discontinued the practice in 2009 because of budget cuts.
During the first six months of the online videos of arguments in 2006, the site logged 5,700 views of 40 arguments, Cady said. In 2007, the site had 75,000 views and during 2007-2008 the average number of views per argument was 1,425.
Cady said the public is more likely to respect the court system if they can see how the courts operate. The court recently heard oral arguments offsite, out in the community, involving a criminal violation of an ordinance prohibiting steel wheels on surfaced roads. About 350 people attended.
“Afterwards, the father of a young Mennonite boy who was the subject of the prosecution patiently waited to talk to me and said, ‘Having seen your court work, I can tell this a pretty honest thing.’ Our courts are an ‘honest thing,’ and cameras can help show this to the people.”
There was some discussion about how lawyers would “grandstand” or play to the cameras and how the cameras might interfere with the justices’ interaction, but Cady said those things hadn’t been an issue.
Cady said the Iowa judges had those same fears or concerns, but the issues never materialized.“We don’t even see the cameras now,” Cady said. “The judges still maintain control. There are no examples I can cite where the decision making was altered because of cameras.”