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Legislation Update: Bills Focus on Security, Cameras and Patents
Legislation affecting the federal Judiciary was introduced in the first few months of the 110th Congress.
Court Security Bills
Identical bills to improve federal court security have been
introduced in the House and Senate. The “Court Security Improvement Act
of 2007,” S. 378, was introduced on January 24, 2007 by Senator Patrick
Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. On the same
day in the House, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), chairman of
the House Judiciary Committee, introduced an identical bill as H.R. 660.
Both bills include provisions that would create new
penalties for the malicious filing of fictitious liens, and a
requirement that the U.S. Marshals Service consult with the Judicial
Conference on matters relating to court security.
The bills also would authorize the Judicial Conference to
redact sensitive information from judges’ financial disclosure forms.
“This expired redaction authority,” said Leahy in a statement, “was used
in circumstances in which the release of the information could endanger
the filer or the filer’s family. I hope we can reinstate and expand
this much needed redaction authority.”
In a statement submitted to the Senate Judiciary
Committee at its February 14, 2007 hearing on Judicial Security and
Independence, Judge D. Brock Hornby (D. Me), chair of the Judicial
Conference Committee on the Judicial Branch, expressed appreciation to
the sponsors of the court security bill and stated that the bill would
contribute significantly to the security of federal judges and their
families. [See the March 2007 issue of The Third Branch.]
Although the House and Senate bills were introduced as
identical legislation, the Senate Judiciary Committee later approved an
amendment to S. 378, which wasintroduced by Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) and
co-sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that would transfer a
judgeship from the District of Columbia Circuit to the Ninth Circuit.
Cameras in Courtrooms
Two bills have been introduced in the Senate that
would allow cameras in federal courts. One bill, S. 344, introduced by
Senator Arlen Specter (R- PA), would require the televising of Supreme
Court proceedings “unless the Justices decide, by majority vote, that
such coverage in a particular case would violate the due process rights
of one or more of the parties.”
The second Senate bill, S. 352, introduced by Senator
Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) is entitled the “Sunshine in the Courtroom
Act”. It would allow “the photographing, electronic recording,
broadcasting, or televising to the public of any court proceeding over
which that judge presides,” at the discretion of the presiding judge of
an appellate or district court. The bill contains provisions that would
allow the obscuring of non-party witnesses, and would not allow the
televising of any juror in a trial proceeding.
A House bill, identical to S. 344, also has been introduced.
Judicial Conference policy allows each court of appeals
to decide whether to permit the taking of photographs and radio and
television coverage; the Second and Ninth Circuits currently allow such
media coverage of appellate proceedings. Conference policy, however,
does not permit photograph and broadcast coverage of proceedings in the
district courts, and the Conference opposes legislation allowing the use
of cameras in federal trial courts. Electronic media coverage of
criminal proceedings in federal courts is expressly prohibited under
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53.
Patent Case Assignment Pilot Program
The House passed H.R. 34 in mid-February, a bill that would
establish a pilot program in at least five U.S. district courts “to
encourage enhancement of expertise in patent cases among district
judges.” The bill is now pending in the Senate.
Introducing the legislation, Representative Darrell E.
Issa (R-CA) said that, “The core intent of this pilot is to steer patent
cases to judges that have the desire and aptitude to hear patent cases,
while preserving random assignment as much as possible.” The pilot
program would terminate in 10 years, and periodic studies would occur to
determine its success. Under the legislation, the Director of the
Administrative Office would designate “not less than 5 United States
district courts, in at least 3 different judicial circuits” to
participate in the pilot program, choosing the courts “from among the 15
district courts in which the largest number of patent and plant variety
protection cases were filed in the most recent calendar year.”
The Judicial Conference has not taken a position on the
patent pilot project legislation; however, the Conference has a
long-standing position favoring the random assignment of federal cases
Last Congress, the House passed the same bill where it
enjoyed bipartisan support and backing from many intellectual property
associations. H.R. 34 is now pending in the Senate.