First Known Video Captures High Court Chamber Protest Footage

by Brent Kendall and Jess Bravin | Wall Street Journal

The Supreme Court was subject to a security breach when a spectator sneaked a video camera into Wednesday’s proceedings and filmed a protester who disrupted an oral argument.

The clandestine footage, posted on YouTube, is the first known video of a Supreme Court proceeding to be made public. It isn’t clear what type of device was used to make the recording.

The video appears to contain footage from two different Supreme Court oral arguments—a campaign finance case from October 2013 and an argument from Wednesday about attorney’s fees in which the disruption occurred. The video captured a spectator in the court’s gallery who stood up and urged the justices to overturn their 2010 decision in Citizens United. That case struck down decades-old limits on political spending by corporations and unions.

Authorities identified the protester as Noah Kai Newkirk, a 33-year-old from Los Angeles. He was arrested under a federal law that prohibits making “a harangue or oration” in the Supreme Court building and held overnight.

Mr. Newkirk, who appeared in a District of Columbia court Thursday, pleaded not guilty to three misdemeanor charges carrying a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. He was released on the condition that he stay away from the high court grounds. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for March 13. Mr. Newkirk’s court-appointed attorney, Wagner Dantas, declined to comment.

High court outbursts are rare. Before Wednesday, the last notable disruption of a Supreme Court proceeding came during a 2006 abortion case.

Mr. Newkirk has been arrested for protests in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, court records said. In 2009 he pleaded guilty to entering then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s (I., Conn.) office with several other demonstrators.

“The court became aware today of the video posted on YouTube. Court officials are in the process of reviewing the video and our courtroom screening procedures,” said court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg.

The court famously doesn’t allow cameras in its courtroom, which has prompted objections from a range of organizations that say court proceedings should be more accessible to the public.

Even still photos of court proceedings are exceedingly rare. Spectators and reporters alike are required to leave most personal belongings behind before attending court sessions. That includes cameras, phones and other electronic devices as well as hats, overcoats, books, magazines and briefcases. Courtroom visitors are closely screened by court security before being allowed to enter.

An activist group called 99Rise claimed credit for Wednesday’s disruption. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the courtroom video.

“The technology is now present for a minute camera to be brought into the courtroom. It is surprising to me this hasn’t happened before,” said Richard Davis, a political scientist at Brigham Young University who studies coverage of the Supreme Court. “Will this lead the justices to approve cameras in the courtroom? I doubt it. It may mean they do more to keep cameras–portable ones–out.”

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