Cameras in the Courtroom-Lesson Example

Lesson Duration

Lesson by Learning Law and Democracy Foundation, written by Eric Marshall

In this lesson, students will examine the constitutional conflicts of allowing or disallowing cameras in courtrooms.  The importance of this issue will be emphasized through a discussion about media literacy. Students will participate in a “Shuttle Debate,” where they will argue whether the state of Minnesota, which currently does not allow cameras in courtrooms, should change its policy.


  1. Students will understand media literacy, particularly as it relates to law.
  2. Students will understand the potential effects cameras have on trials.
  3. Students will be able to list the constitutional considerations at issue when developing a policy on cameras in the courtroom.
  4. Students will evaluate the competing interests involved in the debate over cameras in the courtroom.
  5. Students will be able to discuss the impact of television on the administration of justice.

Materials Needed


  1. Before the class, have the teacher assign the two articles on the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case.
  2. Begin by explaining to the class that this lesson focuses on how the media interacts with the courts.
  3. Use the PowerPoint slides attached to this Lesson Plan to lecture on the topic:
    1. Begin by getting students’ reactions to the Liebeck Articles (assigned prior to class). Explain the other side of the Liebeck story, and survey how the new facts have impacted students’ perceptions of the case.
    2. Explain the different people that are present in the courtroom who have a compelling interest in whether cameras should be allowed. See explanation of People in the Courtroom in Materials Provided.
    3. Discuss how media coverage of the judiciary differs from the other branches of government.  Additionally, discuss the concept of media literacy (the ability to understand how television can shape societal views).
    4. Discuss the history of cameras in the courtroom.
  4. After you have finished the lecture, divide the class in half to participate in a shuttle debate.  Assign one side of the room to argue in favor of allowing cameras in the courtroom and the other side to argue against allowing cameras in the courtroom.  In a shuttle debate, each student is assigned one topic for the debate and you crisscross the room from one student arguing in favor of allowing cameras in the courtroom to another student arguing against the change.
    1. Give the students the blank handout with only the subject headings.
    2. Assign each student a role for the debate.  For example, one student on each side can be an opener, one student can be a closer, and the rest of the students should be assigned a topic on the handout (e.g., education about the legal system, right of access to public trial, states’ rights).
    3. In groups, have the students work together to create arguments for their respective side.  The teacher can help the students think of arguments during this time.
    4. After the students think critically about their arguments, give them the Cheat Sheet handout to ensure each student feels comfortable making arguments on their assigned topic.
  5. Begin the shuttle debate.  Start with the openers from each side, then progress, going from one side to the other side.  Tell students that rebuttal arguments are allowed, but moderate the debate to make sure each student has a chance to express something on their assigned topic.  End the debate with the closer on each side.
  6. Wrap up the exercise with discussion questions (if time allows).  Possible questions include:
    1. Does televising a trial improve or worsen the public’s perception of the law?
    2. Should the defendant have a right to veto the presence of cameras if they believe it will impede their ability to have a fair trial?  Witnesses?  Plaintiffs?  Families of Victims?
    3. How do you think cameras influences the behavior of attorneys, witnesses, judges and jurors?

This lesson was developed for Street Law course at the University of Minnesota Law School,  partially adapted from the Cameras in the Courtroom lesson by Minnesota Law Student Barry Landy and from Phi Alpha Delta Public Service Center Lesson Plan of the Month, Series IV No. 4, TV or Not TV: Cameras in the Courtroom (1995).



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