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Jul 27, 2015

The Experiment Ends: With What Result?

The federal courts have announced the end of the four-year experiment in which selected federal cases were recorded with video cameras and the videos posted online. The next step, according to the Judicial Conference, will be the creation of a camera policy for all federal courts, possibly at a meeting in March.



We've been down this road before. The federal courts conducted a similar test of camera coverage of civil trials in several federal district courts from 1991 through 1994. While the results led to a recommendation that federal courts allow televised proceedings, the federal Judicial Conference rejected this recommendation, concluding that “the intimidating effect of cameras on some witnesses and jurors was a cause for serious concern."

In 1996 the Judicial Conference allowed each federal Circuit to decide the issue for itself: leading the  Second and Ninth circuits to allow the limited use of cameras in non-jury civil cases, and the other circuits to continue to bans (except for those in the experiment). But any Judicial Conference recommendation based on the results of the experiment will be influential on the circuits' policies regarding cameras, and may also affect the U.S. Supreme Court's stance towards cameras in its proceedings.


In the meantime, while the experiment has officially ended, individual courts may continue to record and post videos. And many federal trial courts and most circuit courts routinely post audio of their proceedings even the U.S. Supreme Court does this.

But the U.S. Supreme Court, and the federal courts in general, have been hostile to the cameras in courts. Hopefully that will change with the analysis of the latest camera experiment, so that eventually Americans will be able to see their courts in action without the need to travel to the courthouse.

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