Category Archives: Courts

Senators Introduce Sunshine in the Courtroom Act

Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) have introduced the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, according to a Judiciary Committee press release.

Leahy is the Judiciary Committee Chairman while Grassley is Ranking Member.

The bill allows “federal trial and appellate judges to permit cameras in the courtroom.”

Some notable provisions per the release:

  • would also direct the Judicial Conference, the principal policy-making entity for the federal courts, to draft nonbinding guidelines that judges can refer to in making a decision pertaining to the coverage of a particular case
  • instructs the Judicial Conference to issue mandatory guidelines for obscuring vulnerable witnesses such as undercover officers, victims of crime, and their families
  • a three-year sunset provision is included in the bill
  • does not require a federal judge in a federal court to allow camera access to judicial proceedings…gives federal judges the discretion to allow cameras or other electronic media access if they see fit

The other co-sponsors of this legislation are Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Update (4/7): By a vote of 12-6, this bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee.

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Grassley Seeks Inspector General for the Judicial Branch

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has introduced legislation today to “create an Inspector General for the Judicial Branch,” according to a press release from his office. It’s called the Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act.

His bill would allow for oversight of federal and appellate courts as well as the Supreme Court. It would “put in place safeguards so inspectors general do not interfere with judicial decisions.”

A similar House bill introduced by Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) would only cover federal and appellate courts.

Specifics:

  • Establishes the Office of Inspector General for the Judicial Branch, who shall be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for a specific term of service of four years.  Gives the Chief Justice express authority to remove the Inspector General from office.
  • Specifies duties of the Inspector General, which include (1) to conduct investigations of alleged misconduct of judges in the judicial branch (Senate version includes the Supreme Court), that may require oversight or other action by Congress; (2) to conduct and supervise audits and investigations; (3) to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse; and (4) to recommend changes in laws or regulations governing the Judicial Branch.
  • Provides powers for the Inspector General, which include (1) to make investigations and reports; (2) to obtain information or assistance from any Federal, State or local agency, or other entity, or unit thereof, including all information kept in the course of business by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the judicial council of circuits, the administrative office of United States courts, and the United States Sentencing Commission; (3) to require, by subpoena or otherwise, the attendance for the taking of testimony of any witnesses and the production of any documents, which shall be enforceable by civil action; (4) to administer or to take an oath or affirmation from any person; (5) to employ officers and employees; (6) to obtain all necessary services; and (7) to enter into contracts or other arrangements to obtain services as needed.
  • Requires the Inspector General to (1) to provide the Chief Justice and Congress with an annual report on the Inspector General’s operations; (2) to make prompt reports to the Chief Justice and to Congress on matters which may require further action; and (3) to refer to the Department of Justice any matter that may constitute a criminal violation.
  • Prohibits the Inspector General from investigating or reviewing the merits of a judicial decision.  The investigatory powers of the Inspector General are limited to only alleged misconduct under the “Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980.”
  • Requires the Inspector General to commence an investigation only after the judiciary has conducted its review of an ethical complaint under the 1980 Act.
  • Establishes whistleblower protections for individuals within the Judicial Branch.

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Bill Permitting Cameras in Courtrooms Clears Judiciary Committee

https://i1.wp.com/cache.daylife.com/imageserve/05A99ik5KVc0N/610x.jpg

Legislation to allow “federal trial and appellate judges to permit cameras in the courtroom today passed the Senate Judiciary Committee,” according to a press release from Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) office.

Grassley, along with Senator Charles Schumer of New York, have led efforts over the last several years to ensure the sun shines in on the federal courts.   The bill has broad bi-partisan support and has passed the Judiciary Committee several times.  The legislation has the support of the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Some specifics:

The bipartisan “Sunshine in the Courtroom” bill allows the chief judge of federal trial appellate courts to permit cameras in their courtrooms.  The bill also directs the Judicial Conference, the principal policy-making entity for the federal courts, to draft nonbinding guidelines that judges can refer to in making a decision pertaining to the coverage of a particular case.  It also instructs the Judicial Conference to issue mandatory guidelines for obscuring vulnerable witnesses such as undercover officers, victims of crime, and their families. 

In order to provide a mechanism “for Congress to study the effects of this legislation on the judiciary before making this change permanent, a three-year sunset provision is included in the bill.”

It does not “require a federal judge in a federal court to allow camera access to judicial proceedings.”

(credit image – getty)

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