Though we live in a world where the First Lady can snap a picture of her dog and share it with millions of people in seconds, when we want to better understand Supreme Court decisions (okay, decipher justices' weird jokes about the Ivy League and infertility) we're forced to pore over court transcripts and audio recordings. The Supreme Court's ban on recording devices has been so effective that there are only two images of the court in session, which were snapped via hidden cameras in the 1930s. That's why it's remarkable that someone managed to record video of Supreme Court oral arguments and post it on YouTube this week, even though it's shaky and only two minutes long.
The events in the video are almost as rare. It shows a man interrupting arguments in a patent case on Wednesday to protest the Citizens United decision, as well as footage from oral arguments on the campaign finance case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which took place on Oct. 8.
"I rise on behalf of the vast majority of the American people who believe that money is not speech and corporations are not people and our democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder," the protester says loudly and calmly. "Overturn Citizens United. Keep the cap in McCutcheon. The people demand democracy."
The protester was identified by the court as Noah Kai Newkirk, 33, of Los Angeles. He was quickly pulled from the room by police officers, and charged under the federal law banning, "a harangue or oration" and "loud, threatening or abusive language in the Supreme Court building." This is the first time someone has been charged with disrupting the Supreme Court since 2006, when a protester shouted about Jesus during an abortion case. Newkirk was released on Thursday after pleading not guilty to three misdemeanor charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $5,00 fine.
Newkirk told Reuters he was working with the group 99 Rise, which grew out of the Occupy movement, and confirmed they managed to sneak at least one camera past the courtroom's metal detectors. "I'm glad it's helping us to elevate the issue," he said.
Filming Supreme Court proceedings isn't a crime, but Newkirk wouldn't say who recorded the video or how they did it. Kathy Arberg, the Supreme Court's spokeswoman, said the court "became aware today" of the footage, and, "Court officials are in the process of reviewing the video and our courtroom screening procedures."