As signs emerge on the horizon for a return to our pre-COVID-19 ways of doing things, it’s a good time to consider what pandemic-induced protocols turned out to be beneficial in unexpected ways.
Businesses, health care providers and government entities have begun to examine the myriad changes put in place to see which ones make sense to continue.
The same sort of introspection should take place in the federal justice system, where the pandemic brought about livestreamed U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments and other federal court proceedings. It was a pandemic pivot — courts and government bodies accommodated the distance requirements of COVID-19 by providing virtual access to proceedings. That access was a new level of transparency rarely seen at the federal level, and great opportunity for the American people to see the judicial system in action. And the proceedings continued as usual, not encumbered by the addition of streaming technology. We believe fervently in the people’s access to government, and this is a great opportunity to broaden that access.
So does Iowa’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley. And Illinois’ senior senator, Dick Durbin. When Republican Grassley and Democrat Durbin have a meeting of the minds on an issue, you know it’s good for the people.
Grassley last week championed the bipartisan measure he has put forward that would expand the public’s window into federal court proceedings by allowing cameras in federal courtrooms. The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act allows judges to permit media coverage of trial and appellate cases while ensuring appropriate due process safeguards and privacy protections for witnesses and jurors remain intact.
This kind of approach has worked at the district court level for years. Seeing the court in action helps bolster confidence in the justice system. As Grassley noted, “Federal courtrooms represent a place to find justice and to resolve disputes fairly. They also represent the birthplace of decisions that can impact the lives of Americans for generations. Yet many Americans may never have a chance to step foot in a courtroom and witness the judicial process in action.”
Allowing people to witness the workings of the judiciary builds confidence in our rule of law and benefits our democracy. All our members of Congress should join this bipartisan effort to increase transparency by allowing cameras in federal courtrooms.