Recording Virtual Justice: Cameras in the Digital Courtroom

By Matthew Bultman

With in-person hearings limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, many courts pivoted to proceedings held over the telephone or on virtual platforms like Zoom. It appears these proceedings are here to stay, with various benefits having been realized from remote access to the courts.

Remote hearings have, however, given rise to constitutional questions. This Essay focuses on one emerging issue: courts’ ability to prohibit the press and the public from recording or disseminating these proceedings. While the constitutionality of recording and broadcasting restrictions inside the real-world courtroom is established, little consideration was given to the extension of these rules to the remote context. That is problematic, given that certain justifications for restricting cameras in the courtroom—e.g., preserving “order and decorum”—disappear when proceedings are broadcast. The justifications that remain likely cannot support the categorical bans many courts have in place. Therefore, courts should craft new rules carefully tailored to the digital environment.