Government
5:23 pm
Mon January 23, 2012

PCN Airs First Live Coverage of PA Supreme Court

For the first time in its history, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has allowed live coverage of its court proceedings.

The Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) is providing "gavel-to-gavel" coverage of the appeals on the state's redistricting plan, proposed by the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission and approved in December. The state has re-drawn its legislative districts to accommodate shifts in population as shown by the 2010 census.

The state's highest court has allowed cameras to roll tape since September, but the reapportionment proceedings mark the first live broadcast.

Duquesne Law School Dean Ken Gormley said the live cameras add another variable to the courtroom.

"Anytime you inject cameras into proceedings, lawyers tend to act a little bit differently," said Gormley. "Most people act differently, because they're aware of the camera and they're aware of a broader audience."

The high court requires PCN to air proceedings in their entirety whether they are live or recorded, but the network can choose which session days to record.

The telecast of the 11 oral arguments challenging the redistricting plan began at 9:30 a.m., and the court scheduled a second broadcast for 8:00 p.m.

Cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court?

The United States Senate introduced a bill in December that would require cameras in the United States Supreme Courtroom when proceedings would already be open to the public. The bill, proposed by main sponsors Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is in reaction to the planned hearings on the federal healthcare law in March. The Unites States Supreme Court is the only branch of the federal government that does not allow televised coverage.

"Most Justices argue that it would just sensationalize oral arguments, and that there would be little soundbites that would be played that would really miss the point of oral arguments," said Gormley.

He said Pennsylvania's high court held the same view for many years before permitting taped broadcasts in September.

"I think on balance, the court concluded that it would not dramatically impact anything, because ultimately the lawyers are most concerned about presenting their case in an effective way and prevailing."