The surreptitious videos taken inside the U.S. Supreme Court that popped up on YouTube in recent days were an embarrassment to the court—but not a violation of any law.But if you did it, you might want to lie low, as a prosecutor says that you could be punished anyway.
The court itself prohibits cameras and all electronic devices inside the courtroom, and its screening of people entering the courtroom would likely detect most conventional cameras or phones with cameras.
But while it is a crime to "harangue" or utter "loud threatening or abusive language” inside the courtroom—as occurred during oral argument on Wednesday—it is not a crime to possess or use a camera there.
That explains why the court’s official statement about the videos on Thursday mentioned no investigation of who took the images.
It seems to me that the public has a free speech right to video of our courts in action. All courts should have video cameras, broadcasting to the web. What are the judges afraid of?
Update: In response to a comment that there is no First Amendment right here, a law professor explains:
The Supreme Court has rejected the view that there is a First Amendment right to attend all government proceedings — e.g., jury deliberations, grand jury hearings, executive agency meetings, and so on — or to view government documents. The federal Freedom of Information Act and many state public records acts give the public the right to access various government documents, but those statutes stem from legislative decision, not constitutional command.
Nonetheless, the Court has created a First Amendment right of access to certain judicial proceedings, especially criminal trials (Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia (1980)), jury selection in criminal trials (Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court (I) (1984)), certain preliminary hearings but not grand jury hearings (Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court (II) (1986)), and possibly also civil trials (Richmond Newspapers). To determine which proceedings qualify, the Court generally looks to whether “the place and process have historically been open to the press and general public” and “whether public access plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the particular process in question” (Press-Enterprise (II)). ...
In any event, this area of First Amendment law is something of a mess, as I learned when I was creating that portion of my textbook.