Cameras in Federal Courtrooms have always been verboten in America. However, in the case of the United States v. Donald J. Trump, slated for March 2024, two unlikely parties are teaming up to petition a federal judge to break tradition and allow cameras in the courtroom. In a peculiar twist, attorneys for the former president and a coalition of left-leaning legacy media want the proceedings to be televised. To do that, a pool camera would have to be permitted inside the courtroom, a practice long frowned upon by the federal judiciary. So, what’s at stake in allowing Trump TV to become a nationally televised – and likely number one rated – program?
The news organizations have asked US District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan to re-think the prohibition on televising the case that charges President Trump with criminal activity. This is a historic legal action against a former president. Prosecutors have leveled four charges against Mr. Trump – all of which are serious accusations claiming that, in one way or another, he plotted to subvert the results after the ballots had been counted. The indictment accuses Trump of “conspiracy to defraud the United States by using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat” federal law after election day. The 45th president maintains this legal action is election interference since he is the leading Republican nominee seeking a second term as the nation’s chief executive.
The media coalition application argues the cameras will perform a public service. Within this petition, they gave the judge two methods of granting a remedy: Either the proceedings can be recorded and telecast, or they can “contemporaneously publish on YouTube the audio-video livestreams.”
A side benefit that goes unnamed in the media petition is that, should the judge agree to the request – it is sure to be a ratings blockbuster. This is a case in which everyone, from Trump supporters to haters, has a pony in the race. The fact that the televised proceedings would occur amid the primary season will only make it all the more riveting.
Trump TV: Will She, or Won’t She?
In weighing her decision regarding cameras, Judge Chutkan will also consider the government’s position. On Friday, November 3, Special Counsel Jack Smith asked that cameras not be permitted in the courtroom. In his court filing, he cited precedent, saying the rule was adopted in 1946. It was revisited in 1972 and prohibited by a Judicial Conference, but the issue was again studied in 1988 under the watchful eye of US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. That ad hoc committee “recommended a pilot program to permit electronic media coverage of civil proceedings in six districts and two appellate courts.”
But wait – there’s more. Smith’s filing noted that in 1990, “the prohibition on broadcasting from the Judicial Code of Conduct” was waived in certain instances. This was done primarily to allow naturalization and ceremonial proceedings to be broadcast. But in 1994, the hammer came down, and the Conference decided that cameras had an “intimidating effect on some witnesses and jurors …”
The pandemic impacted the camera issue, as they were allowed in the courtroom, but that was a temporary exception that ended September 21, 2023. The next day, the Judicial Conference “returned to the status quo” and cameras were again banned. Bottom line: Smith urges the judge to just say no to Trump TV and asks her to deny both requests.
There’s no reason to believe Chutkan will go against judicial precedence. Federal judges are traditionally opposed to turning their courtrooms into three-ring circuses. Despite the vast American public interest in this case, Trump TV will likely be canceled before it even begins.