Weird History The Supreme Court Has Only Been Caught On Camera Three Times In History - And We Found Them All  

Noelle Talmon
10 items

Photos of the Supreme Court in session are extremely rare. Many Americans aren't even aware of some of the most important Supreme Court cases because images of them aren't available in a world that relies heavily on visuals and social media for news consumption. In fact, there are only two photos of Supreme Court proceedings known to exist today.

These photographs were obtained by two different people over the span of five years in the 1930s. Security has since been tightened to prevent individuals from bringing electronic devices inside. Despite federal government efforts to prevent illegal images and recordings, in 2014 a group managed to catch the Supreme Court on tape. While the justices don't allow cameras in the court room, the public is allowed to attend all oral arguments. People are required to stand in line and are given access on a first-come, first-served basis.

Keep reading to learn more about the Supreme Court's varied opinions on in-house photography and to see the illicit photographs. 

The First Image Ever Taken Of The Supreme Court In Action Was Snapped In 1932

The First Image Ever Taken Of ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Supreme Court Has Only Been Caught On Camera Three Times In History - And We Found Them All
Photo: Steaktartaar/Reddit

The first photo of a Supreme court session was taken by brave photojournalist Erich Salomon. Salomon took a big risk by secretly bringing his forbidden device into the old Senate Chambers in 1932. The journalist pretended to have a broken arm and then tucked a camera inside his cast. The image shows judges on the bench with Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes presiding. Justice Louis Brandeis is also clearly visible in the image while an off-camera attorney delivers an argument to the justices.

Salomon's photo was published in Fortune magazine.


In 1937, One Daring Woman Cut A Hole In Her Purse To Get The Perfectly Illicit Shot

In 1937, One Daring Woman Cut ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Supreme Court Has Only Been Caught On Camera Three Times In History - And We Found Them All
Photo: Ilovelamp9/Reddit

Another photo of the Court was published in 1937 by Time magazine. The publication described the submitter as a young woman who hid the device in her purse. She made a hole so the camera lens poked out and took the image while her handbag was against her hip.

The photo has black edging along the top corners where her purse obstructed the camera lens' view. In the photo, one can see the judges sitting at the bench in front of a large curtain, four marble columns, and a big clock.

The justices are listening to a white-haired lawyer. Several are resting their heads in their hands, while Justice James McReynolds is looking up. The photo was taken during the Lochner Era when several decisions were made regarding the New Deal.


A Group Secretly Recorded The Court in 2014

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Video: YouTube

The group 99Rise managed to record video of a spectator making a disturbance during an oral argument at the Court in 2014. It's unclear, though, how the group was able to pull off the stunt. 99Rise was advocating for campaign finance reform and posted their video on YouTube to bring attention to the cause. The spectator who interrupted the court was named Noah Newkirk and he was arrested for his tirade.

As a result, officials vowed to more thoroughly review screening procedures for the court room.


Federal Rule 53 Prohibits Cameras In The Courtroom

Federal Rule 53 Prohibits Came... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Supreme Court Has Only Been Caught On Camera Three Times In History - And We Found Them All
Photo: U.S. Supreme Court/Wikimedia Commons

In 1946, a rule was enacted that prevented electronic media in federal courts. Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure states the following:

"Except as otherwise provided by a statute or these rules, the court must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom."

Video cameras were added to the rule in 1972. A 2002 amendment clarified:

"Also, although the revised rule does not explicitly recognize exceptions within the rules themselves, the restyled rule recognizes that other rules might permit, for example, video teleconferencing, which clearly involves “broadcasting” of the proceedings, even if only for limited purposes."