Supreme Court TV? Trump nominee has open mind on cameras

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett said on Wednesday she was open to at least one sweeping change for the nation’s top judicial body - allowing cameras into the chamber for the first time in its 230-year history.

“I would certainly keep an open mind about allowing cameras in the Supreme Court,” Barrett said during her Senate confirmation hearing under questioning by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who has long advocated such a step.

“Many of us believe that allowing cameras in the courtroom would open the courts to the public and bring a better understanding of the judiciary,” Grassley said.

Advocates of cameras in the courtroom argue that it is an important step to allow transparency in the judicial process. Some U.S. state and local courts permit cameras and allow live TV broadcasts of certain proceedings, but federal courts largely do not.

Grassley has been pushing for the introduction of cameras to the Supreme Court for at least 15 years and has introduced legislation that would allow video coverage of court proceedings.

Neither video nor still cameras are allowed in the Supreme Court chamber. But the court, in a break with precedent, allowed live audio of its oral arguments at the end of its most recent term and during its current term as it hears cases by teleconference due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the hearing, Republican Senator Ben Sasse told Barrett he opposes cameras in the courtroom because it would lead to “theatrics.”

“I think we’d get a lot more Michael Avenatti nonsense, if we had cameras in the court,” Sasse said, referring to the convicted lawyer who represented adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in litigation against Trump.

While Supreme Court nominees have expressed openness to cameras before, sitting justices have been opposed. They argue that allowing video coverage would make it difficult to conduct arguments effectively and would encourage theatrics by attorneys arguing before them.

In 1996, former Justice David Souter, now 81 and retired from the high court, drew a hard line on the matter: “The day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.”

Grassley, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, acknowledged the difficulty. He noted Souter’s comment, and invoked his own mortality by calling his push for cameras “another interest of mine that at 87 years of age I won’t live long enough to see done.”

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham