This article was written by Daniel Schuman, the Sunlight Foundation's Policy Counsel.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held an executive business meeting on April 29th to evaluate a trio of bills aimed at opening up courtrooms to television cameras. When it comes to directing some sunlight at the courts, there are many more transparency measures to consider.
For example, the Supreme Court's website is still in need of dramatic improvement. Only the most recent opinions are available from the Court, merits and certiorari briefs are generally (if not entirely) unavailable, and the site does not incorporate modern updating techniques like RSS and XML. The Court's recent website redesign slightly improves its functionality, but there's a long long way to go. In addition, the Court should release audio recordings of argument the same day they occur, not require folks to get them from the National Archives after the end of the Term.
Although many of the lower courts do a better job than the Supreme Court, they too could spiff up and make more user-friendly the information they provide to the public. And the pay-per-use PACER system, whereby the public is charged to access their own court documents, should be made available to the public for free.
For the record, the legislation the Judiciary Committee will consider includes:
• A measure to televise all open sessions of the Supreme Court unless a majority of justices decides doing so violates due process rights (S. 446).
• A measure expressing the Senate's opinion that open Court sessions should be televised (S. Res. 339).
• A measure granting appellate and district court judges the ability to allow photos, electronic recording, and broadcasting of court proceedings (S. 657).
Hopefully, these measures will prompt a committee hearing, and provide a foundation to examine how the courts make information available to the public.
Thanks to Eric Naing for his assistance with this blog post.