It wasn’t that long ago — in the 1950s — that virtually every state banned television cameras in the courtroom as too intrusive. But by the mid 1970s, more enlightened judges and lawmakers realized that the public had a right to see what went on at a trial, and the trend began to reverse.
Today, most states routinely allow TV cameras in the courtroom — entire trials of extraordinary public interest are often aired for viewers to follow. The Ted Binion murder trial, for instance, was broadcast live in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
The situation isn’t as encouraging at the federal level, however. Judges in the federal system — including on the U.S. Supreme Court — remain averse to progress and continue to balk at allowing their proceedings to be televised.
While some members of Congress have pushed to allow cameras in the federal courts, their legislative efforts have gone nowhere. This is likely due to the fact that most members of the nation’s highest court oppose such measures, arguing — unconvincingly — that the presence of cameras would somehow demean the process or provide a distorted picture to viewers.
Thankfully, our own high court has rejected the federal approach and embraced the simple concept that the taxpayers who fund the system should be able to see it conduct their business.
On Friday, the Nevada Supreme Court made history when it allowed live broadcasts and an Internet Web cast of a session in which the judges dealt with challenges to term limits, various proposed ballot questions and the case of suspended Las Vegas judge Elizabeth Halverson.
Chief Justice Mark Gibbons said the justices took the step because they recognize the intense public interest in the cases.
While the hearings involving term limits and the ballot questions were mostly procedural, the justices did hear substantive arguments in the Halverson case involving her eligibility to run for another term. The court deserves credit for opening their doors to increased public scrutiny. Let’s hope this is more than just a noble experiment and eventually leads to more frequent broadcasts of the court in action.