August 28, 2023 - 9:00 pm
More than three dozen House Democrats have signed a letter urging that the federal trials of former President Donald Trump be televised. The idea has merit, but these elected officials might be careful what they wish for.
Earlier this month, nearly 40 Democrats in the lower chamber formally requested that the Judicial Conference, which serves as a policymaker for the federal judiciary, relax rules that currently forbid cameras in federal courtrooms and “explicitly authorize the broadcasting of court proceedings in the cases of United States of America v. Donald J. Trump.”
The effort, led by Trumpaphobe Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is couched in language emphasizing the importance of transparency and accessibility.
“Given the historic nature of the charges brought forth in these cases, it is hard to imagine a more powerful circumstance for televised proceedings,” the letter stated. “If the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be vitally important for it to witness, as directly as possible, how the trials are conducted, the strength of the evidence adduced and the credibility of witnesses.”
No doubt Rep. Schiff and his crew are also confident that the bombastic Mr. Trump will say or do something that could damage him politically. But that’s a risky dice roll.
Mr. Trump is a reality TV star at ease and fully confident in front of a camera. His unexpected ascent to the White House in 2016 can be attributed in part to his ability to sustain media attention and to use modern communication channels to his advantage. It’s at least as likely that televised trials would help him with voters rather than hurt him.
Opponents of airing the trials argue that it will create an incentive for disruption and potentially devolve into an unmanageable circus that overwhelms the quest for justice. They also raise the potential of political fanatics threatening and endangering witnesses and jurors.
But there is a long track record of televised trials in state courts being conducted with integrity. For the most part, such events have proved useful in educating taxpayers on the intricacies of the justice system while boosting confidence in the outcome of the proceedings. As for putting participants in danger, absent specific threats, speculation shouldn’t be justification for limiting openness.
Mr. Trump’s trials will be unprecedented and a point of great division among Americans. That’s all the more reason, as the House members note, to maximize transparency. Mr. Trump’s attorneys have hinted they would have no objection. The Judicial Conference should make an exception to the federal TV ban when it comes to the former president.