Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SJC Issues Key Ruling on Cameras in Courts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an important ruling this morning on the constitutionality of cameras in the courts. Ruling on two challenges to the OpenCourt pilot project in Quincy District Court, the SJC held in Commonwealth v. Barnes that any order restricting live video streaming from the courtroom is a form of prior restraint and can be upheld only if it is the least restrictive, reasonable measure necessary to protect a compelling government interest. Here is the SJC's precise language:
We conclude that any order restricting OpenCourt's ability to publish -- by "streaming live" over the Internet, publicly archiving on the Web site or otherwise -- existing audio and video recordings of court room proceedings represents a form of prior restraint on the freedoms of the press and speech protected by the First Amendment and art. 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, as amended by art. 77 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. Such an order may be upheld only if it is the least restrictive, reasonable measure necessary to protect a compelling governmental interest. 
In the two challenges at issue here, the SJC held that neither case satisfied the standard to justify the prior restraint:
In the Barnes case, we vacate the order of the District Court judge requiring the redaction of the name of the minor alleged victim. We expect and anticipate that OpenCourt will continue to adhere to its policy of not publishing the name of the minor, but agree that on the record of this case, the judge's order was unconstitutional because the Commonwealth did not provide an adequate demonstration that this particular minor's privacy or psychological well-being would be harmed by publication of her name, or that a prior restraint was the least restrictive reasonable method to protect those interests. In the Diorio case, we conclude that Diorio has not met the heavy burden of justifying an order of prior restraint with respect to the specific proceedings at issue in his petition for relief. 
Notably, the SJC went on to request that its Judiciary-Media Committee (on which I serve as the representative of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association) submit for the SJC's approval a set of guidelines for the operation of the OpenCourt pilot project.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The acceptance of cameras in the courtroom as quickly grown in recent years. As of 2005, all 50 states had provisions that allowed cameras in the courtroom to some extent while most of these provisions include both trial and appelate courts. The issue of prior restraint is an interesting one. At its core, prior restraint is simply government censorship. The United States traditionally has only allowed for restraints of this nature if there is not a less restrictive way of handling the situation. Prior restraint has often been used in wartime, but even then, the argument has been made that it is often used more for political reasons than for reasons of national secruity. The "Sunshine in the Courtroom Act" allowed cameras in federal courts at the judges discretion. Although the Supreme Court does not allow pictures or broadcast technology in its courtroom, there have been a few exceptions to this rule. One of these exceptions was in 2000 when audiotapes were allowed to be delayed released in the Bush v. Gore case regarding the election dispute. Another exception was McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. In this case, portions of the hearings were allowed to be aired by video. The decision of the SJC on the issues of prior restraint is reflective of the most current rulings in other similar cases. Unless an individuals right to due process is interrupted or national security is compromised the courts seem to lean heavily in favor of limiting freedom of speech and freedom of the press as little as possible.

Sue Ann Wood