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Panel OKs bill to televise open Supreme Court sessions

  • Story Highlights
  • Bill to televise open Supreme Court proceedings goes to full Senate for vote
  • Senate Judiciary Committee approves bipartisan bill in 11-7 vote
  • Advocates say public would benefit from seeing high court in action
  • Opponents say court should not be entertainment
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From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A bitterly divided Senate panel Thursday approved a measure allowing all public U.S. Supreme Court proceedings to be televised despite fierce opposition from the justices.

Several Supreme Court justices reportedly have expressed opposition to the plan for TV coverage.

A separate move to allow TV coverage of all federal appellate and trial court proceedings was withdrawn after stiff opposition developed from members of both parties.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bipartisan bill for television cameras in the Supreme Court in an 11-7 vote. Eight Democrats and three Republicans backed the legislation. The measure goes to the full Senate but hasn't been placed on the calendar yet.

The Supreme Court must allow television coverage of all open sessions unless the justices decide with a majority vote that coverage in a particular case would violate a party's legal rights, the legislation says.

Advocates said the public would benefit from seeing the high court in action. They noted opposition to C-SPAN coverage of Congress was once fierce but that lawmakers now widely support it.

"With a governmental process you should err on the side of openness," said one Democratic sponsor, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. Other sponsors were Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Charles Grassley of Iowa.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California sharply criticized the measure.

"The Supreme Court doesn't tell us how to run our business, and we shouldn't tell them how to run their business," she said.

Feinstein cited objections to the move from several justices, including Anthony Kennedy's assertion that cameras would provide "an insidious temptation for justices to get a sound bite on the evening news."

She also quoted Justice David Souter's vow that "cameras will be allowed here only over my dead body." The remark drew snickers from some committee members and onlookers.

The approval for cameras came after Schumer's plan for televised coverage of all federal trial courts at the discretion of trial judges drew little support.

Two former federal prosecutors on the committee -- Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama -- said potential witnesses in criminal trials may refuse to cooperate if they believe their court testimony will be televised.

Feinstein said that she feared some judges may wish to "perform for the cameras" and that the move could create "a circus atmosphere."

"How does this improve the quality of justice one bit?" she asked. "Courts should not be entertainment. We already have Judge Judy."

Faced with little support, Schumer withdrew his plan, saying he would consult in the coming week to see if he can modify the proposal to gain support. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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