Press Release

The National Center for Public Policy Research



For Immediate Release: June 27, 1997

Contact: Amy Ridenour 202/543-4110 or [email protected]

Taxpayers, Religious People, Internet Users, Handgun Owners Shut Out of Court:

Millions Affected by Supreme Court Decisions This Week Were Denied the Opportunity to See Cases Argued in Court

Taxpayers, religious people, Internet users, handgun owners and anyone who might someday die were keenly affected by decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court over the last three days. Too bad these same people were effectively banned from watching these Supreme Court proceedings the way they can watch the House and Senate on their TV screen.

Over the last three days the Supreme Court has handed down a significant decision affecting the constitutionality of regulating the Internet via the Communications Decency Act. The decision ironically represented a judgment by America's most secretive brach of government over America's most open institution. Other key cases decided this week:

Religion: Usually deeply divided, in 1993 Congressmen of both parties got together and nearly unanimously passed a law to stop governments from preventing religious people from practicing their faith. This week the Supreme Court tossed out this protection, and religious leaders are nearly apoplectic. Said the National Council of Churches: "Every church and synagogue, every religious person in America is going to be hurt by this decision. They just don't realize it yet." One reason they don't realize it is they weren't allowed to watch the Court argue this case over their important First Amendment protections.

Brady Bill: The Brady Bill has probably inspired more calls to talk radio programs than any other piece of legislation. But when the Supreme Court decided to toss a key part of it out, the millions interested in this issue couldn't listen in.

Assisted Suicide: Hardly a day goes by that the news media does not mention Dr. Kevorkian. Yet when the U.S. Supreme Court heard not one but two key cases on assisted suicide, the TV cameras were banned from the courtroom.

Line Item Veto: Grassroots taxpayer groups fought for years to get the Congress to give the president line item veto authority. When a Republican Congress finally did so for a Democratic President, some elected officials who lost the vote in Congress sued. Taxpayers could watch these officials debating in Congress, but when they took their case to the court, the public was blacked out.

"Federal courts deeply affect the daily lives of the American people," said Amy Ridenour, President of The National Center for Public Policy Research. "Yet the American people are effectively barred from listening in as arguments are made before these courts, and as decisions are handed down. It's time to open this branch of government to American people."

The National Center for Public Policy Research cites several reasons why cameras should be allowed in federal courtrooms:

* 48 states already allow cameras in the courtroom and studies in 28 states show that TV coverage of court proceedings has significant social and educational benefits.

* Cameras allow citizens to see their judicial system at work. The public's right to know was significantly enhanced by the presence of cameras in the U.S. House (since 1977) and the U.S. Senate (since 1986).

* The Founding Fathers desired public access to courtrooms, advocating courtrooms large enough for entire communities, and advocating, according to the journals of the Continental Congress, holding trials "before as many people as chuse to attend."

* Crime victims advocate cameras in the courtroom. Victims of the Oklahoma City bombing were adamant that they -- and the world -- be permitted to watch the trial of Timothy McVeigh.

* The Supreme Court has ruled that "the First Amendment can be read as protecting the right of everyone to attend trials" and that the presence of cameras in a criminal trial is not a denial of due process.

A bi-partisan group led by Reps. Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) have introduced a bill, HR 1280, the "Sunshine in the Courtroom Act" to allow federal judges the discretion to open their courtrooms to television coverage if they so desire. Hearings are expected on the legislation in July.

Concluding that cameras should be allowed in federal courtrooms, the New York Times said: "The Court is not some private club. It is not supposed to be mysterious to the public it serves. Making it more accessible, and promoting greater public understanding of the complex questions it addresses, is the best way to honor the institution."

Access to the full text of mentioned Supreme Court cases is available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/ConstIndex.

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