Several apparent tweaks to Supreme Court security procedures were evident today in the first oral argument since last week’s release of surreptitious recordings of courtroom sessions.

Visitors approaching the courtroom for their second security check – the first is at the entrance to the building – were greeted with a more brightly lighted table for the Court’s police officers to examine personal effects.  The checkpoint just outside the courtroom is in the Great Hall, which has relatively dark ambient lighting.  Visitors, as always, walk through a magnetometer, while Supreme Court police officers examine purses, notebooks, and other small personal items allowed inside the courtroom.  All electronic devices, such as cellphones, are prohibited from the courtroom, as are larger bags and briefcases.
On Monday, before the argument in Hall v. Florida, the challenge to Florida’s scheme for identifying defendants as intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, those inspection tables were each lighted with triple-bulb standing lamps and were covered with white tablecloths.  Many visitors, including reporters who regularly must pass through the checkpoint, were required to extend or remove their belts for inspection. A sign prominently displayed at the checkpoint reminds visitors that cameras and recording devices are not allowed in the courtroom.

Inside the courtroom, a standard security announcement delivered by a police officer about ten minutes before the start of oral arguments appears to have been tweaked. The announcement, which typically discusses the need to remain quiet and where spectators should exit, on Monday encouraged spectators to “discreetly” alert security personnel “if you see anything suspicious.”

The Court’s Public Information Office declined to discuss the changes, saying it does not comment on security procedures.

Last week, an activist group named 99Rise claimed credit for posting several video clips taken surreptitiously inside the courtroom and posted on YouTube. The clips include several minutes from an October argument, as well as the shaky footage capturing last week’s outburst, during a patent argument, by Noah Kai Newkirk in which he urged the Court to overturn its 2010 campaign-finance decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  Newkirk has been charged with violating a law prohibiting a “harangue or oration” at the court.  He has pleaded not guilty.

Court observers have speculated that the courtroom videos were made with something as small as a pen camera that evaded detection at the Court’s security checkpoints.

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Recommended Citation: Mark Walsh, In wake of secret videos, security tweaks evident at the Court, SCOTUSblog (Mar. 3, 2014, 12:43 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/03/in-wake-of-secret-videos-security-tweaks-evident-at-the-court/