By Lawrence Hurley and Joan Biskupic
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – For the first time, video footage of U.S. Supreme Court proceedings has been recorded and posted online.
The Supreme Court has always barred any type of cameras, including news media, from recording proceedings.
The video shows a protester, later identified by the court as Noah Kai Newkirk, 33, of Los Angeles, California, who disrupted an oral argument on Wednesday.
The shaky, low-quality video, just over two minutes long, shows a brief disruption that occurred in the courtroom during an oral argument in a patent case. It also appears to show video taken at a separate oral argument, held last October 8 in a campaign-finance dispute, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, that has yet to be decided. (YouTube video: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K-8FJ114kU)
On Wednesday, Newkirk stood up and spoke out against the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling from 2010 that cleared the way for increased independent corporate and union spending during federal elections. Newkirk can be partially seen and heard in the video footage, which appears to have been shot by someone he was with.
Newkirk is a member of a group called 99Rise, which says on its website, www.99rise.org, that its aim is to “get big money out of American politics.”
Reached by phone on Thursday night, Newkirk confirmed that 99Rise had been able to smuggle at least one concealed camera into the courtroom. He declined to say who else was involved in the scheme and how it was carried out.
“I’m glad it’s helping us to elevate the issue,” he said in reference the media attention the group is now receiving. Newkirk, a long-time progressive activist, said 99Rise was formed by a small group of people in Los Angeles who were inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests prompted by concerns that corporations had too much influence on public life.
Police officers removed Newkirk from the courtroom on Wednesday after a brief scuffle. He faces a misdemeanor charge for violating a law that prohibits “loud threatening or abusive language” in the Supreme Court building.
Newkirk pleaded not guilty to the charge when he appeared in Superior Court in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, according to court records. If convicted, he could face a fine of $5,000 and 60 days in jail.
Video cameras, along with any other electronic devices, are not allowed in the courtroom. Still cameras are also not allowed. Spectators are screened by police officers before they are allowed entry to the courtroom.
Although there has never been video recorded before, there are incidents of people taking still photographs. There were two such incidents in the 1930s, according to a 2012 article in Slate, an online magazine.
A Supreme Court spokeswoman said in an email on Thursday that she was aware of the video.
“Court officials are in the process of reviewing the video and our courtroom screening procedures,” she said. Recording video violates the court’s rules but is not a criminal offense.
(Additional reporting by Joan Biskupic; Editing by Howard Goller, Kevin Drawbaugh, Bernard Orr and Lisa Shumaker)