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Coalition Asks Senate to OK|Supreme Court Broadcasts

WASHINGTON (CN) - The American Civil Liberties Union and 36 other public interest groups urged the Senate to move forward with a bill that would allow television coverage of the Supreme Court.

"The court decides too many questions of monumental importance to the American people to deny them the opportunity to observe its proceedings," the groups said in its Thursday letter to the Senate.

The groups behind the letter, including the ACLU, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and the Alliance for Justice, argued that broadcasting Supreme Court oral arguments would advance government transparency and provide Americans with a greater understanding of the judicial system.

The groups cited a recent C-SPAN poll showing that 63 percent of Americans support televised coverage of Supreme Court proceedings. And a majority of those who did not favor coverage changed their mind after pollsters told them public seating at the court is extremely limited and hearings are held in Washington, D.C., raising support of cameras in the courtroom to 85 percent.

The bill, S. 446, was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 13-6 vote in June. The bill's sponsor is Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa.

The groups said concerns about televised court proceeding violating the rights of criminal defendants generally do not apply at the appellate level "where there are no juries to be exposed nor witnesses to be intimidated."

Also, they argued, the bill "anticipates such concerns and allows exceptions in the event camera coverage would violate the due process rights of any party."

"The time has come for the Supreme Court to enter the 21st century and join the high courts of the United Kingdom and Canada by permitting broadcast television coverage of its open proceedings," the groups said.

"Allowing cameras to broadcast Supreme Court arguments will bring a crucial part of our government's proceedings to the vast majority of the American public for the first time," said Michael Macleod-Ball, chief legislative and policy council for the ACLU. "A democracy cannot thrive without transparency or an engaged public. This bill will help to educate our citizens about how our highest court operates and ensure that there is no branch of government that is inaccessible. This bipartisan bill should be passed swiftly by both the Senate and the House in the coming post-election session."

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