“You try to read their body language. You watch them closely and their reactions. It’s an art. Not a science,” remembers Glenn Ivey. “When you’re in a jury trial, the last thing on your mind is anything other than the judge and jury.”
Even a television camera would be ignored, Ivey argued.
Ivey, a first-term Democratic congressman from Maryland, spent decades as a state and federal prosecutor before winning a seat in the House. He is now among a growing number of House Democrats calling for support for a new law or rules to allow television cameras in U.S. federal courts.
Ivey insisted that the cameras would not impact the tone or outcome of a criminal trial, but would instead give Americans an unbiased, unfiltered view of the justice system.
“There is no substitute for people seeing the debates for themselves and drawing their own conclusions,” he said.
America has entered an unprecedented historical moment, in which presidential politics and federal criminal prosecutions have merged. Former President Donald Trump’s planned trial in the 2020 election conspiracy criminal case brought by special counsel Jack Smith is set to begin in less than six months in Washington, DC. Jury selection is expected to begin a day before the Super Tuesday primaries, in which Trump is currently projected to be the Republican front-runner.
Trump’s criminal trial in Florida for alleged mishandling of classified files is scheduled to begin two months later, at the end of the presidential primary season.
But there will be cameras in at least one of Trump’s trials. In Georgia, Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee ruled that all hearings and trials related to the case would be televised. State law allows televised debates as long as cameras do not disrupt proceedings.
Mix high-stakes arguments before the Supreme Court with this monument’s current electoral impactand some members of Congress feel this is an opportunity to end the federal government’s ban on cameras in federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Several pieces of legislation have been formally introduced in Congress in recent years to allow cameras into nearly 100 federal criminal courts across the country. Some Democrats are now stepping up their advocacy for a bipartisan bill sponsored in March by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. The bill was introduced before it was known that Trump would be charged in federal criminal court.
The senators defended their proposal at the time, saying: “The judiciary has an enormous impact on our daily lives and those of generations to come, but few Americans have the chance to see inside the judicial process. »
Speaking to CBS News, several House Democrats are now encouraging support for such proposals, citing the importance of ensuring that any Trump trial is broadcast on television for Americans to watch. They are exploiting Republican allegations of a “witch hunt” against Trump as part of their arguments.
Rep. Jerold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told CBS News: “I’m sure Republicans are going to try to argue that this case is sort of a ‘putting down’ job. scene “. ” railway “. If the American public can see what is happening, they will have much more confidence in our justice system. »
Ivey said federal criminal court cameras would prevent perceptions of bias in media coverage of the Trump trials. “I think it’s the only antidote to acrimonious theater that you would otherwise have,” Ivey said. “There aren’t many news sources anymore that are considered independent, rightly or wrongly.”
In a separate effort, a coalition of three dozen House Democrats wrote a letter to the Judicial Conference, which oversees federal court proceedings, calling for a narrower policy change to allow the proceedings of any trial to be televised. federal government of Trump.
“Given the historic nature of the charges in these cases, it is difficult to imagine a more powerful circumstance for televised debates,” the letter said. “If the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be vitally important that they witness, as directly as possible, how the trials are conducted, the strength of the evidence presented and the credibility of the witnesses. “
Citing growing interest in the issue, the Congressional Research Service released a memo detailing options Congress could consider. The memo, released in August and reviewed by CBS News, says the federal ban on cameras in federal courts can only be overturned by a decision by the Judicial Conference of the United States, which administers the federal court system, or by congressional legislation.
“The debate over whether to expand video broadcasting in federal courts often balances the interest in providing public information about the proceedings against preserving the integrity of the judicial process and the rights of the parties to a due process,” the memo said.
Access to cameras would require certain safeguards in some criminal cases, members of Congress acknowledged. In an interview with CBS News earlier this year, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a former federal prosecutor, said protections would be needed to avoid putting victims and witnesses at risk.
“By giving the judge discretion, it preserves the ability to protect certain witnesses, who might not want their identity to be young,” Blumenthal said. “If they are young or victims of domestic violence.”
Lawmakers call for cameras at Supreme Court as proceedings begin
Some members of Congress are also expanding their argument to include camera access to the Supreme Court, where the cases could also have a dramatic impact on the American electorate.
CBS News obtained a copy of a “Dear Colleague” letter circulating this week among members of the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking support for legislation requiring television cameras inside the Supreme Court.
The letter, which is being circulated by Democratic Reps. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, Mike Quigley of Illinois, Hank Johnson of Georgia and Adam Schiff of California, said: “The lack of transparency creates a perception of secrecy unworthy of the Third Branch of our government.
“It also limits the public and media to one-dimensional and sometimes distorted views of judges’ actions because court transcripts cannot provide the public and media with the verbal intonations, body language and other cues that can help to interpret meaning and provide clarity,” the letter continues.
Connolly told CBS News that “the Supreme Court is not a mystical, druidical priesthood that deigns to periodically review constitutional questions and impart its wisdom from on high.” The American public has a right to witness the consequential and historic proceedings unfolding before the highest court. “.
A coalition of media organizations joined members of Congress to advocate for camera access at the high court. In a new letter to United States Chief Justice John Roberts, media groups argued that the court should continue to provide audio streams of proceedings until camera access is made possible.
“Apart from providing live video of the proceedings, constant live audio of the Supreme Court proceedings is the best way to keep the public informed and engaged regarding its operations,” the letter states.