By Christopher B. Daly
As I recently argued, we the people deserve to have cameras in all our courtrooms (except maybe juvenile court) and our legislative bodies.
The latest case in point: the appearance in U.S. District Court in Boston yesterday by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Radiating out from downtown Boston, millions of people have a keen interest in this case, and they all have a right to see this defendant. We have a right to hear him say “Not guilty.” We have a right to observe the performance of the government parties — the prosecutors, the judge, the guards, etc. We have the right to watch our government.
Instead, what we get is a chalk sketch like this one:
We can do better, and we the people deserve better.
If anybody knows of a good argument for continuing to ban cameras from federal courts, please leave a comment.
By Christopher B. Daly
In America, where the people attempt to rule themselves, why should we not have access to even the innermost reaches of our executive, legislative and judicial branches of government? It seems to me that if we really believe in transparency, we should demand it. We should operate on the assumption that all government operations are open unless there is a really good case for closing them.
Two cases in point:
–The Whitey Bulger trial in Boston is a matter of intense interest to a couple of million people in eastern Massachusetts and lots of other individuals around the country. But we cannot watch his trial on television, because video cameras are banned from federal courts. Instead, we make do with the daily work of “sketch artists,” pursuing an odd hybrid of fine art and journalism that should have gone out of business by now. TV cameras have been operating for decades in most state-level courts, and guess what? The quality of justice in the state courts has not diminished measurably.
(LEFT TO RIGHT) CHRISTINE CORNELL; JANE FLAVELL COLLINS; MARGARET SMALL
–The recent filibuster in the Texas Legislature made a hero of state Sen. Wendy Davis (and her pink running shoes). Last week, she borrowed a tactic from conservatives and waged a real, old-fashioned filibuster in order to block a bill that would have seriously rolled back access to abortion in Texas. Yes, she was aligned politically with the liberal agenda. Yes, she was very telegenic. But the only reason that she could rise to her current level of stardom is the presence of television cameras that routinely record and transmit the people’s business being done in the legislature.
Sen. Wendy Davis faces the cameras.
Obviously, we the people cannot attend every court hearing or legislative debate. For one thing, we are busy. For another, we would never all fit in the tiny public galleries available in most courtrooms or legislative chambers. We need access.
Let those cameras in!
(And if you are worried about the presence of cameras touching off an epidemic of grandstanding, forget it. Our litigators and legislators are already grandstanding every day. We’re just missing a lot of it.)