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The Judicial Conference released a set of rules that will govern an experiment to allow camera coverage of federal district courts beginning in July.

Cameras in federal courts coming in July (kinda, sorta)

The judicial revolution will be televised. *

* Subject to the judge’s discretion. With additional restrictions to follow…

The Judicial Conference of the United States on Wednesday released a set of rules that will govern a three-year experiment to allow camera coverage in 14 federal district courts across the country beginning in July, reports the BLT Blog.

To say that the judiciary is dipping its toe in the waters of the long-running Cameras in the Courtroom debate would be … about right:

Video would be allowed only in civil proceedings in which both parties consented.

[N]o live broadcasts will be permitted, but the video will be posted at some later point on the federal courts’ central Web site as well as the local court’s site, at the court’s discretion. It is entirely up to the judge which cases are recorded, and “it is not intended that a grant or denial … be subject to appellate review” …

The cameras must be under the complete control of the court, according to the rules, and cameras either owned by the court or a contractor with the court will be used. No photos of jurors, jury voir dire, or sidebar conferences will be permitted.

What’s more, the presiding judge must have the ability to switch off the coverage at any time …

So, very little potential for Halftime Show wardrobe malfunctions, in other words.

The experiment was approved last September due to “Congressional interest,” the blog reports. And this is actually the second time this particular experiment has been tried:

The Conference ran a similar experiment in the early 1990s with generally positive results. But then the excesses of the O.J. Simpson trial set back the cause for cameras in federal courts for more than a decade. The new experiment comes after prodding by Congress, with an assist from some federal judges who see a need for the courts to tap technology in the interest of educating the public.

Presumably any concerns about scintillating O.J.-level drama breaking out hither and yon, consuming Americans’ precious attention spans and driving the Nancy Grace-addled masses to distraction, no longer weigh as heavily upon the Congress and the judiciary as they did in the ’90s.

A strong undercurrent to the rise of Cameras in the Courtroom legislation is the belief that it will serve as a check on the perception of “judicial activism” (see: the aforementioned Congressional interest) and root out dysfunction in the legal system. “Greater transparency leads to greater accountability, which is something our federal government can always use more of,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, this spring.

Of course, there is a precedent for the belief that the never-blinking gaze of the camera lens is a tonic with the power to cure all. Who can forget March 19, 1979, when the United States Congress was radically reformed, and no one ever complained about its lack of transparency ever again?

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