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SPJ Urges Supreme Court to Allow Cameras to Capture Historic Election Decision


Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323; Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, 406/542-4400; Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment Counsel, 202/861-1660

INDIANAPOLIS - The Society of Professional Journalists is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow C-SPAN to provide coverage of any hearing the Court might conduct regarding the outcome of the 2000 presidential election.

SPJ President Ray Marcano sent a letter to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist today asking him to allow C-SPAN to provide pooled television and audio coverage to all accredited media outlets. C-SPAN also wrote a letter requesting that Rehnquist allow the news organization to bring its cameras into the high court.

"We urge the Supreme Court to hold these deliberations as publicly as possible, and in this case, that means granting C-SPAN's request," said Marcano, regional editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "This is clearly a historic case, and the public has the right to immediately hear arguments that could determine who the next president will be."

The U.S. Supreme Court does not allow cameras in its courtroom. Should legal battles surrounding the election come before the nation's highest court, however, the Society believes it would be in the best interests of the public for an exception to be made.

"First, it would satisfy the public's immediate desire to know the specific arguments both the Bush and Gore camps will make," said Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman and special projects coordinator for the Montana Television Network. "Second, it would ensure that the ongoing process of selecting our next chief executive takes place in as public a manner as possible.

"Third, it would provide a priceless historical record of this historic event," Marquand continued. "Allowing these proceedings to be presented live to the public would mark a defining moment for the Court that could only be considered positive and good for the country."

Letter from the Society

Monday, Nov. 27, 2000
The Honorable William H. Rehnquist
Chief Justice of the United States
The Supreme Court
1 First St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20543

Dear Mr. Chief Justice,

The Society of Professional Journalists writes to support in the strongest terms C-SPAN’s request to broadcast live coverage of any hearing in this Court regarding the outcome of the 2000 presidential election contest.
C-SPAN’s proposal to provide pooled television and audio coverage of any such hearing to all accredited media organizations is a reasonable solution to the vexing problem of how best to inform the public of ongoing developments in this extraordinary political story as it moves to this Court.

The Society is aware of the Court’s standing rule prohibiting televised coverage of oral arguments — a rule that we have long opposed — but surely the Court has recognized that Friday’s hearing is not "business as usual." It is a moment of unprecedented national importance, and as the broadcast of the Florida Supreme Court argument already has demonstrated, live coverage can be handled in a manner consistent with judicial decorum.

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest journalism organization, representing not only working journalists — print, online and broadcast — but also academics, high school and college students, public relations professionals, media attorneys and government officials.

Our members adhere to common goals — protecting the public interest by serving as a watchdog for freedom of information and ensuring that an ethical and credible group of professionals reports the news.

The Society supports C-SPAN’s efforts to cover any hearings regarding theoutcome of the 2000 presidential race because we believe it is in the best interests of the public. Witnessing the Court’s proceedings regarding the election would help Americans understand the legal disputes surrounding the presidential race and serve to alleviate any misunderstandings about the final outcome.

We hope the Court will allow cameras in the courtroom and give Americans the privilege of witnessing a historic decision through live media coverage.

Respectfully and sincerely,

Ray Marcano,
National Board President
Society of Professional Journalists

Letter to Society President

November 28, 2000 


Mr. Ray Marcano
National Board President
Society of Professional Journalists
The National Journalism Center
3809 North Meridian Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46208-4011

Dear Mr. Marcano;

I have received your letter of November 27, supporting C-SPAN’s request to provide television and audio coverage of the proceedings in Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, No. 00-836. Yesterday the Court took up the question of televising these proceedings and a majority of the Court remains of the view that we should adhere to our present practice of allowing public attendance and print media coverage of argument sessions, but not allow camera or audio coverage.

For some time, the Court’s proceedings have been recorded and a transcript of the proceedings is available shortly after they occur. In light of the public interest in the Bush case, a transcript will be made available on an expedited basis on the day of the argument. Additionally, the Court today has decided to release a copy of the audiotape of the argument promptly after the conclusion of the argument.


William H. Rehnquist

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