Apr 6, 2015

Another Supreme Court Video Surfaces, Showing Folly of Camera Ban

For the third time in about 14 months, activists have released a video of them interrupting proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The video primarily shows the audience in the public seating area of the courtroom, including some shots -- taken at odd angles -- of the activists rising, making their statements, and being removed from the courtroom. It does not show the justices, although after the protests begin Chief Justice John Roberts is heard telling the audience that anyone who interrupts will held in criminal contempt.

Like in the prior incidents (in Feb. 2014 and Jan. 2015), the activists were arrested for violating 40 U.S.C. § 6134, which makes it illegal to "make a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building or grounds." They were also charged with picketing within a federal courthouse "with the intent of interfering with, obstructing, or impeding the administration of justice" under 18 U.S.C. § 1507. [Orin Kerr analyzes the charges here.]

Members of Congress who have supported bills to require broadcast of Supreme Court aguments cited the latest serendipitous video as showing the need for such legislation.  "I think it underscores the nature of the problem that people are going to try to go underground, and technology increasingly allows that, precisely because of the absence of openness and transparency," Congressman Gerry Connolly told the Congressional newspaper The Hill.

The Court has always prohibited still and video cameras from its sessions, despite increasing pressure to do so. It does release transcripts (on the same day) and audio (at the end of each week) of oral arguments before the Court, but has resisted efforts to allow audio-visual coverage.

In response to the earlier surreptitious videos, the Court enhanced security inspections to try to ensure that equipment capable of recording video does not make it into the courtroom. The new video shows that these enhanced inspections are not totally effective. It also shows the folly of continuing to try to keep Supreme Court proceedings from being seen beyond the courtroom audience.


Eric P. Robinson said...

The protesters are using their trial to challenge restrictions on protests at the Supreme Court, both inside and outside the building:

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