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Rights groups urge Senate to pass bill allowing cameras in Supreme Court

A coalition of 37 public interest groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Alliance for Justice [official websites], sent a letter [text, PDF] to the Senate Thursday urging it to pass legislation [S 446 text, PDF] that would allow television coverage of Supreme Court proceedings. The letter argues that coverage of Supreme Court oral arguments would allow the public to better understand the justice system, which will "inure to the benefit of all Americans by heightening their awareness of one of the three co-equal branches of our Federal government." The letter cited a C-SPAN [official website] poll where 63 percent of the respondents supported cameras in the Supreme Court, a number that increased to 85 percent when the respondents not in favor of the cameras were told that the Court has limited seating and only meets in Washington DC. The legislation was voted out of the Judiciary Committee in June by a vote of 13-6 and was sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) [official website], who has been a long supporter of cameras in the court.

The Supreme Court has been reluctant to allow its proceedings to be televised. In April, Justice Stephen Breyer said he was wary [WP report] of cameras in the court because it would put pressure on the trial courts to do the same and that only showing the oral arguments would be insufficient for the public to understand what was happening. Specter, on the other hand, has pushed for cameras in the court [WP op-ed], citing the controversial Bush v. Gore case, where cameras covered the events following the 2000 presidential election up to the point it went before the court. Professor Majorie Cohn of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, has written about the need for more television coverage of the court and, in January, criticized [JURIST Op-Ed] the court for stopping the federal trial court hearing California's Proposition 8 case as a way to use procedural excuses to keep a controversial issue hidden.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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