Breaking a 15-year precedent, Judge Joe Billy McDade allowed TV cameras into an Urbana, Illinois federal court last week to record a school district hearing. Lingering reports of discrimination have community members wondering how much progress has been made since a court-ordered consent decree was implemented to oversee racial equity and equality in the school district.
Judge McDade reportedly felt the issue was an important one to broadcast. He granted an exception for TV cameras, and later to the News-Gazette and radio stations.
Steve Halle, a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois told Illinois Public Media that cameras and microphones haven’t been allowed in lower federal courts since 1994.
“The federal courts conducted an experiment between 1991 and 1994 with regard to cameras in the courts,” recounts Helle. “And the experiment was positive, but the Judicial Conference nonetheless voted to ban cameras in the federal courts,” he continued. “There was reconsideration of that policy and they decided to allow cameras in the circuit courts of appeal but still ban them in the district courts.”
Helle suspects that without a specific change made to the Illinois federal court laws, this kind of allowance is unlikely to happen again.