By Mark Sherman
Washington – The nation’s federal judges agreed Tuesday to a pilot project that could televise some civil trials — 16 years after the judges ended a similar experiment.
Appeals court judge David Sentelle told reporters that many of the details remain to be worked out, but that cameras could not record the faces of witnesses and jurors. Sentelle also said either side in a lawsuit could keep cameras out.
The move by the policymaking body for the federal judiciary, the Judicial Conference, follows an aborted effort to have video recordings of the trial over California’s ban on gay marriage posted on the Internet.
In January, the Supreme Court nixed a plan by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker in San Francisco to have cameras record the trial.
Under the terms described by Sentelle, had this pilot project already been under way, the gay marriage trial would not have been aired because defenders of the ban objected to cameras at the trial.
A three-year pilot project in the early 1990s received generally good reviews from judges. Yet in 1994, the Judicial Conference restored its longtime ban on televised proceedings.
In 1996, the nation’s appeals courts were allowed to decide for themselves whether to allow cameras at argument sessions. So far, appeals courts in New York and San Francisco permit such coverage.
The Supreme Court also does not permit cameras, and several justices have expressed their strong opposition to the idea. The newest justice, Elena Kagan, has said she might be open to cameras at arguments. Since the Bush v. Gore case on the 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court has released audio recordings shortly after arguments in some high-profile cases.
Sentelle, chairman of the Judicial Conference’s executive committee, said interest from some colleagues and members of Congress, as well as changes in technology that include smaller, less obtrusive cameras, prompted the judges to act.