Courtroom Art

Most of us remember the camera of footage of the OJ Simpson Murder Trial. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” famously uttered by Johnny Cochran and ingrained in the American psyche. Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, and dozens of other TV “Judges” appear on network TV. Yet there is one high court that you have never seen any video of. The Supreme Court has traditionally not allowed video cameras inside those hallowed halls. You may also see on Twitter or TV that Supreme Court is hearing an important case that will shape the rights of individuals, groups, corporations, etc… for the foreseeable future, but wonder why they are showing hand-drawn pictures? Where are the videos?  Well, according to the Justices, TV cameras would not only have harmful effects on the discussion, but also harm the perception of the Supreme Court itself.  

“I think if there were cameras that the lawyers would act differently. I think, frankly, some of my colleagues would act differently” said Chief Justice John Roberts recently. This isn’t a new opinion from our Justices. Antonin Scali once said, “[w]e’re usually dealing with the internal revenue code, with ERISA, with patent law, with all sorts of dull stuff that only a lawyer could understand and perhaps get interested in. If the American people saw all of that, they would be educated, but they wouldn’t see all of that.” His major concern was that “what most of the American people would see would be 30-second, 15-second takeaouts from our arguments.”

While transcripts of Supreme Court hearings are available, as well as audio recordings of oral arguments, these forms of transmission do not convey the same information as visual images. This gap in electronic visual aid is filled by the courtroom artist. After the 1935 courtroom spectacle over the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the American Bar Association pushed to ban cameras in the courtroom. That trend was followed across the country, lasting until the 80’s when states started allowing cameras back in. Now federal courts are the last bastion of the courtroom artist. Will they have a future though? A recent hearing from the House Judiciary Committee may signal the beginning of the end for federal courtroom artists. Until then, enjoy the pictures.

The link below is the video record of  that House Judiciary Committee meeting: