Should the Courts be More Open? Commentary by MTSU Professor Larry Burriss

Aug 15, 2023 at 05:46 am by WGNS News

Should the Courts be Forced to be more Open?

Overseeing the courts and the public having the ability to see what is happening within the courts. With today’s commentary, here is MTSU Professor Larry Burriss…


Commentary:Over the years, almost every branch of the government has become more and more open to public scrutiny. Every branch except one; and that one is perhaps the most important branch, the judicial.

Under current guidelines, federal courts are not open to either camera or sound coverage. Both still and video cameras, as well as audio recorders, are banned, except for ceremonial functions such as naturalization proceedings and swearing-ins.

And the ban applies to all levels from the local district court all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There has been some limited experimentation with camera coverage of federal courts, but with all of the high-visibility trials coming up, this might be the time to expand the experiment a bit to include local Federal trial courts.

Of all the three branches of government, the legislative, the executive and the judicial, it is the court system that is, in fact, pre-eminent; the first among equals as it were.

The executive can propose all of the laws it wants, and the legislative branch can pass them, but if the judicial branch says the laws are unconstitutional, then they are null and void. And it is this power to decide which laws will be enforced that makes the judicial branch so powerful.

It is for this very reason the courts need to be covered in more detail than they currently are. And this certainly applies to the body dealing with both fact and law, the federal district court.

Now it’s true the U.S. Supreme Court has the most impact, but that court deals, for the most part, with legal theory and philosophy. It is the local district court, dealing with facts and evidence, that is the heart of the judicial system, and the heart of a fair and unbiased trial.

It is one thing to read a description in the newspaper of the courts in action; it is quite another to see it on television.

Furthermore, every story we see about the court is merely an interpretation, and an incomplete one at that, of what the reporters thinks went on.

By opening up the courts to live television coverage, the people themselves will have the opportunity to see how the decisions affecting their lives, and often the lives of their neighbor’s, are made.

It is true the court operates under a veil of mystique, and penetrating this veil may remove some of the aura surrounding court decisions.

Nevertheless, we the people certainly need the opportunity to see how these decisions are made, and opening up the courts to cameras and sound recordings is an idea whose time has certainly come. - I'm Larry Burriss


About Dr. Burriss - Larry Burriss, professor of journalism, teaches introductory and media law courses. At the graduate level he teaches quantitative research methods and media law. He holds degrees from The Ohio State University (B.A. in broadcast journalism, M.A. in journalism), the University of Oklahoma (M.A. in human relations), Ohio University (Ph.D. in journalism) and Concord Law School (J.D.). He has worked in print and broadcast news and public relations, and has published extensively in both academic and popular publications. He has won first place in the Tennessee Associated Press Radio Contest nine times. Dr. Burriss' publications and presentations include studies of presidential press conferences, NASA photography, radio news, legal issues related to adolescent use of social networking sites, legal research, and Middle Earth.

Dr. Burriss has served as director of the School of Journalism, dean of the College of Mass Communication and president of the MTSU Faculty Senate. He was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Board of Regents. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and served on active duty in Mali, Somalia, Bosnia, Central America, Europe and the Pentagon.

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