One of two photographs in existence of the US Supreme Court in session. Cameras are forbidden in the Supreme Court, but this photograph was taken by a young woman who concealed her small camera in her handbag, cutting a hole through which the lens peeped, 1937.
As a rule, cameras are not allowed in the courtroom when the U.S. Supreme Court is in session. One would think that this has become harder to enforce over time, considering that everyone has a camera on their phone these days. However, amazingly, there are only three publicly known photographs. Even more baffling is that the few people who have managed to get away with a forbidden photograph of the Supreme Court in session did so in the 1930s—and the stories of how they got those images speak to the creativity and ability of the photographers.
In 1937, an anonymous woman concealed a small camera in her handbag. To do so, she cut a hole through the fabric, allowing the lens to pop out like an ornament. Then, to get the perfect shot without using the camera finder—after all, it was inside the purse—she practiced shooting at hip level. The result was the first picture of all nine members of the Court in session. The image went on to be published on Time. Since photography was banned, the magazine did not identify the daring photographer by name.
There was, however, an earlier photograph of the Court in session, which also required some cleverness from the photographer. The first known image of the Supreme Court in session was taken by Erich Salomon, a German photojournalist. He first requested to photograph the session, but was denied permission. Afterward, Salomon took matters into his own hands and used an arm sling to hide his camera when he visited the court in 1932. His daring action prompted an official ban on images taken during court sessions.
According to Judicature, published by the Bolch Judicial Institute of Duke Law School, there is a third image, also taken in 1937 at the start of the term. It was published on the front page of the New York’s Daily News, but there is no information on the photographer or how they were able to avoid being caught.
Although the Supreme Court has maintained a ban on photography, it does make audiotapes of oral arguments and opinions available to the public. While some countries broadcast the sessions of their Supreme Courts— Brazil and Mexico are two such examples—others have much more limited access, like the UK, where court drawings are not allowed in session and are done based on notes and memory afterward. Ultimately, the daring photographers who have snuck their way into the U.S. Supreme Court show how interested people are in what happens during these sessions.
As a rule, cameras are not allowed in the courtroom when the U.S. Supreme Court is in session. However, there are three publicly known photographs taken by sneaky photographers in the 1930s.