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Grassley Re-Ups on His Cameras in the Courts Push

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, February 18 2011

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is turning the camera on himself to make the case for the idea that federal judges in trials and appeals should at least have the discretion to film what happens inside their courtrooms. Grassley's YouTube video went up this afternoon. Grassley has introduced his Sunshine in the Courtroom Act several times before, but never, he points out hopefully in the video clip, from his perch as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But the Judiciary Committee isn't really the problem. "This initiative is about making government more open," says Grassley in his video. "It would contribute to the public's understanding of America's judicial system that is now too often cloaked in secrecy. Greater transparency would lead to greater accountability, and the reflects the views of our nation's founders about the federal judiciary having limited power in our system of government." And on that point and on his bill he has the backing of his Democratic colleagues Chuck Schumer and Patrick Leahy, the latter of whom is now the chair of Senate Judiciary. Their cameras-in-court bill has passed out of committee before, but never through the full Senate.

Grassley's bill would require that the Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversees the operation of the judicial branch, to come up with guidelines on how camera use can be balanced with protecting witnesses and other participants in court proceedings.

The question of whether federal judges should at least have the option of capturing and streaming their judicial proceedings popped up in the news fairly recently, when during the big Proposition 8 trial in San Francisco last January the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in at the last minute to tell Judge Vaughn Walker that he couldn't go ahead with his plan to film and then put on YouTube what went down during the trial.