supreme court videotaped
Why Supreme Court video is important
02:39 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Advocacy group on campaign finance reform recorded video during an oral argument

The recording was made as a spectator began talking loudly about campaign finance

There was no explanation about how a camera was smuggled into the courtroom

The video was posted on YouTube

CNN  — 

In an apparent first at the tradition-minded Supreme Court, an advocacy group surreptitiously recorded video of an oral argument that was interrupted by a spectator.

The group, which supports campaign finance reform, posted the video of Wednesday’s proceedings on YouTube as part of a protest over the issue.

No electronic devices, or still or video cameras are permitted in the court’s public sessions.

All spectators, including members of the media, are screened with magnetometers at the entrance to the ornate courtroom.

There was no immediate explanation of how a camera was smuggled past security.

“The court became aware today of the video posted on YouTube,” court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said in a statement. “Court officials are in the process of reviewing the video and our courtroom screening procedures.”

The taping as well as an interruption by a spectator who witnesses said began talking loudly about campaign finance reform, apparently occurred near the end of arguments in a patent case.

The video confirms what witnesses told CNN– that the well-dressed man spoke about the need to keep campaign finance reform laws in place to regulate election spending and contributions.

“Money is not speech,” he said. “Overturn ‘Citizens United!’” referring to a 2010 high court decision loosening a century of federal restrictions on corporate spending by “independent” groups like businesses and unions.

Noah Newkirk of Los Angeles was only able say a few words before police escorted him from the courtroom, and he did not resist.

Newkirk was charged with violating federal law that makes it a crime to “harangue” or utter “loud threatening or abusive language” in the Supreme Court building.

The justices ignored the incident.

Court officials said the last disturbance was eight years ago during an oral argument over an abortion-related issue. A similar interruption occurred about two decades ago.

There are only two photographs of the court in session – and those cameras were smuggled in – in the 1930s.

CNN and other media outlets have been allowed to shoot video and still pictures of the empty courtroom.

Sketch artists are allowed to portray the oral arguments and other public sessions of the court.

There have been calls for years to allow cameras in the court, for public benefit. A new television ad released last week urged the justices to do just that saying, “It’s time for a more open judiciary.”

The sponsor of the commercials is the Coalition for Court Transparency, not affiliated with the group that secretly recorded the oral argument Wednesday.

The biggest concerns raised by the justices are that cameras would upset the personal dynamic between them that make oral arguments so unique and useful to their later deliberations and opinion-writing.

The courtroom has about 330 seats available to the public. Court security instructs spectators before each public session to remain seated, not to speak, or demonstrate.