Judicial Conference Declines to Implement Same-Day Audio Standard for Appellate Arguments

Feb. 10, 2015 – WASHINGTON, D.C. — Judge William Terrell Hodges, chairman of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, wrote to the Coalition for Court Transparency this week to announce that the committee had denied the coalition’s request that audio files of all federal appeals court hearings be placed online the same day a hearing is held.

“Our Committee considered this suggestion at its December 2014 meeting but decided not to recommend a policy change with respect to posting audio of appellate arguments at this time,” Judge Hodges wrote.

He added: “Over the past two decades every federal court of appeals has adopted rules or policies that make audio recordings available to the public in some form, and our Committee felt, in view of those developments, that the courts should be allowed to develop procedures in this important area at their own pace, taking into account individual circumstances as they exist in each of the circuits.”

“We are pleased that the Judicial Conference considered our request,” said Alex Armstrong, spokesperson for the Coalition for Court Transparency. “We are, however, disappointed that the committee declined to recommend a policy change. While some federal appellate courts have embraced technology and transparency in some capacity, too many U.S. courts are simply inaccessible to the American public. The status quo is unacceptable, and the Coalition for Court Transparency will continue to advocate for a more open and accountable judiciary. We are hopeful that the Judicial Conference will reconsider this policy in the future.”

“Aside from openness, the next most important expectation from our courts is judicial consistency,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, a member of the Coalition for Court Transparency. “The fact that the chair of the Judicial Conference Committee is willing to allow disparate results in the circuits regarding the release of audio files fails to provide the predictability we expect in the fair administration of justice.”

“Allowing each circuit to act at its own pace will undoubtedly perpetuate needless delays,” said Mike Cavender, Executive Director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, also a coalition member. “With today’s technology, the public should be able to hear its courts at work without having to file a motion.”

Currently, eight of the 13 federal circuits (3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, D.C. and Federal) post argument audio online the day of a hearing. Of the remaining five, two (1st and 4th) try to upload an audio file within 24 hours of oral argument. Meanwhile the 2nd and 11th Circuits require that interested parties purchase the audio, and the 10th Circuit requires a motion be filed to acquire a recording.

A complete breakdown of current audio/visual policies for U.S. Courts of Appeals is available on the coalition’s website.

CCT Responds to Justices Sotomayor and Kagan on Cameras in the Court

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Coalition for Court Transparency expressed disappointment at recent remarks by U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and renewed its call for live audio/visual coverage of the upcoming same-sex marriage cases.

Open government is essential to a well-functioning democracy, and cameras in the Supreme Court would provide Americans with much-needed access to the highest court in the land. In recent public appearances, however, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan have expressed concern that cameras in the Supreme Court would lead to grandstanding. Both justices had previously spoken favorably of putting cameras in the courtroom during their confirmation hearings:

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 2009 confirmation hearing: “I have had positive experiences with cameras. When I have been asked to join experiments of using cameras in the courtroom, I have participated. I have volunteered.” July 14, 2009

Justice Elena Kagan, 2010 confirmation hearing: “I have said that I think it would be a terrific thing to have cameras in the courtroom. […] I think it would be a great thing for the institution, and more important, I think it would be a great thing for the American people.” June 29, 2010[1]

In spite of their new concerns, experience in Canada and in U.S. state supreme courts suggests that grandstanding is not a problem when proceedings are broadcast.

The Canadian Supreme Court has broadcast proceedings since 1993, and cameras have not diluted the substance of arguments or disrupted the decorum. Instead, as Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin remarked, they have “contributed to public confidence” in the court by opening it to “many citizens across the country.”[2] Similarly, Ohio State Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has noted that video streaming in her court has not led to grandstanding.[3]

Advocates before the Supreme Court are professionals – and they know the only audience they need to convince is the nine justices before them.

“If the Supreme Court is going to continue to refuse to allow audio/visual coverage of its proceedings, the justices at least owe the American people a reasonable explanation,” said Alex Armstrong, spokesperson for the Coalition. “The Coalition for Court Transparency – and 74 percent of Americans – continues to agree that cameras in the courtroom ‘would be a great thing for the American people.’”

“As long-time advocates for electronic news coverage in the Supreme Court, RTDNA is particularly disappointed to see these recent remarks by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor,” said Mike Cavender, Executive Director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, a Coalition member. “We hope they and the other Justices will consider closely the growing amount of evidence that audio and video recordings of the Court’s proceedings will result in only one thing—a more enlightened and better-informed public.”


[1] Coalition for Court Transparency, “The Justices in their Own Words on Cameras in the Supreme Court.” See: http://www.openscotus.com/Justices%20on%20cameras%20in%20the%20Court%20FINAL.pdf

[2] Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, “Remarks on the Relationship Between Courts and the Media” (Jan. 31, 2012), available at http://bit.ly/1fqxgYl

[3] The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, “Technology and Transparency at the Supreme Court” (Oct. 25, 2013). See: http://www.c-span.org/video/?315864-1/supreme-court-transparency

CCT Requests Live Broadcast Of Same-Sex Marriage Cases In Letter To Chief Justice Roberts

Washington, D.C. — In a letter to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, the Coalition for Court Transparency today requested “that audio-visual coverage of oral arguments in the same-sex marriage cases be broadcast live, enabling the world to witness history as it happens.”

“We hope that the Court takes this historic moment as an opportunity to move into a new era of openness by permitting live audio-visual coverage of the arguments in the same-sex marriage cases,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.

In addition to the historical nature of the cases, the Coalition highlighted how this act of transparency could burnish the Court’s reputation.

“In our modern era, an institution’s legitimacy is often driven by the public’s perception of its openness and transparency,” the letter said. “When decisions are made in cases that provoke strong emotions, transparency allows the public to be assured that the process was fair and that the institution is functioning properly. Simply put: televising the oral arguments will ultimately strengthen the public’s perception of the Court by imbuing its result with greater legitimacy.”

“Recent polling shows three-quarters of Americans support televising Supreme Court proceedings,” said Alex Armstrong, spokesperson for the Coalition. “Oral arguments in the upcoming marriage cases will be historic, and the whole nation will be eager to follow along. There’s no better time to turn on the cameras.”

The full letter is available here.

CCT Statement on House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on H.R. 917, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Coalition for Court Transparency today applauds the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet for convening a hearing on H.R. 917, the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2013, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and co-sponsored by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

Witnesses testifying at the hearing included Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association and leading First Amendment expert. The NPPA is one of nineteen national media and legal organizations that advocate for a more open and accountable U.S. Supreme Court as the Coalition for Court Transparency.

“Opening courts to electronic coverage is essential for the public to see that justice is being done, to be assured of the integrity of the process, and to better understand how decisions are made at both the trial and appellate levels, especially those of the Supreme Court,” Mr. Osterreicher told the subcommittee. “The only way that the public at large can have full faith in the decisions of our courts is to be able to see them firsthand, and the only way they can do so is to permit journalists to convey electronic coverage of the courts directly to the public.”

“According to an August 2014 poll, 74 percent of Americans support allowing cameras in the Supreme Court. Another 72 percent support live audio feeds, either on the radio or over the Internet,” said Alex Armstrong, spokesperson for the Coalition for Court Transparency. “Support for a more accessible, accountable Supreme Court has never been stronger, and we are thrilled that members of Congress are standing with the American people on this issue.”

Mr. Osterreicher’s full testimony is available here.

Radio News Directors Join Coalition to Call for Uniform Media Policies in Federal Courts of Appeals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the judicial branch’s policymaking body convenes here this week, the Coalition for Court Transparency is calling on judges who sit on the Judicial Conference to implement a uniform, same-day audio policy for hearings conducted in the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals across the country.

While technology affords, and public interest dictates, that federal appeals courts should consider live-streaming audio of their proceedings, the coalition believes that a national same-day audio policy would at the very least ensure that reporters covering a federal court case could use primary source materials while a hearing was still newsworthy, no matter where in the circuit they physically work. While some federal benches maintain media-friendly policies, others compel reporters to file motions or pay a fee to receive audio files of cases.

“There is no reason for such disparate press policies across the federal court system, and we’re hopeful that in the interest of greater transparency, the Judicial Conference will look at making online, same-day audio a national standard,” said Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, a coalition member. “All members of the press should have equal access to court proceedings, whether they live near a federal courtroom or four states away – especially given what modern technology affords us.”

“Live-streaming argument audio at the appellate level is by far the easiest solution, both technologically and logistically, since all federal courts of appeal already record the audio for posterity,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a coalition member. “But in the interest of putting the 13 federal circuits on the same plane, implementing same-day audio is the most straightforward solution for the Judicial Conference to consider for the coming year.”

Today news directors of radio stations across the country joined with the coalition to send a letter to the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Court Administration, which oversees media policy in federal courts, asking them to implement a uniform, same-day audio policy. A copy of the letter is available at OpenSCOTUS.com.

A number of federal appeals courts have implemented press- and public-friendly audio policies in recent years. Last year, for example, Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit announced, to much praise, that his court would place audio files of its hearings online by 3:00 p.m. on the very day a case was argued. The Third Circuit (based in Philadelphia), Seventh (Chicago), Eighth (St. Louis) and the Federal Circuit (Washington, D.C.) also place same-day audio of arguments online, while the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco) not only uploads same-day audio to its website, but it also live-streams the proceedings.

The Ninth Circuit is also the only circuit to upload video of its hearings. The Third and D.C. Circuits film hearings in their main courtroom but only for distribution elsewhere in the building via closed-circuit TV.

Other federal courts of appeals with relatively fast turnaround on argument audio include the First (Boston) and Fifth Circuits (New Orleans), which place an audio file online with 24 hours of a hearing, and the Fourth Circuit (Richmond), which places argument audio online within two days.

Unfortunately, certain courts of appeals make it more difficult for the press to cover proceedings and for the public to follow the docket. In the Second Circuit (New York) argument audio is not made available to the press or the public online, though it is available for purchase. The Second Circuit did, on the other hand, allow C-SPAN to live-stream video of a Sept. 2 hearing on NSA surveillance. The Sixth Circuit (Cincinnati) often takes weeks to place argument audio online. In the Tenth Circuit (Denver) a member of the press or public must file a motion to receive oral argument audio. And in the Eleventh Circuit (Atlanta) a person must send a formal request to the clerk to receive the audio and then pay $30 to the court to get the file on CD.

The coalition applauds efforts from other media outlets that have been advocating for improved access in the federal courts they cover. The Cincinnati Enquirer, for example, requested that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals live-stream audio of a marriage equality case before the panel last month. The clerk denied the request but did post the audio online 90 minutes after the conclusion of the hearing.

The coalition, which formed earlier this year to advocate for a more open and accountable U.S. Supreme Court, understands that, sometimes, for new media policies to implemented at the High Court, they must first be executed successfully in lower courts – another reason the coalition is eagerly awaiting the conclusion next summer of the cameras-in-the-court pilot program being conducted in 14 federal courtrooms across the country.

UPDATE: October 3, 2014

Read our letter to the new Judicial Conference Committee Chair

New CCT Poll Finds Live Video, Live Audio, Online Disclosures at Supreme Court All Favored by Wide Majority of Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Americans want the Supreme Court to broadcast its hearings live on television and its justices to abide by a code of ethics, according to a national poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates and released today by the Coalition for Court Transparency, a non-partisan alliance that advocates for a more open and accountable High Court.

Seventy-four percent of respondents would like the justices to allow news cameras to film the court’s proceedings and broadcast them live to the American people. Seventy-two percent say the court should at least broadcast live audio of the court’s hearings over the Internet and on the radio.

Another CCT proposal – that the justices be required to post their annual financial disclosure reports online and not only release them by paper, as is the current practice – received support from 69 percent of respondents.

“In a country governed by the rule of law, citizens have the right to see that law being debated,” said Doug Kendall, co-founder and president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a CCT member. “Given the paralysis and rancor among our other branches of government, the justices should seize this moment and allow some sunlight into their courtroom.”

“It’s almost unbelievable that three-fourths of Americans agree on anything tangentially political these days, but we’re seeing the same results on cameras in the court, across party lines, in poll after poll,” added Michael Ostrolenk, co-founder and chairman of the Liberty Coalition, a CCT member. “The American people expect greater transparency from their public officials, and while recent focus has been on the Executive Branch’s obfuscation, the Supreme Court finds itself in a co-equal position of opaqueness. Broadcasting court hearings would help reverse that trend.”

McLaughlin & Associates identified broad support across ideological lines on questions about cameras, live audio and online disclosures, and the coalition believes that a more open media and online policy at the court would help restore some of the “shaken public faith” in government institutions that Chief Justice Roberts was lamenting in Boston on Monday.

Further, only 35 percent of those surveyed gave the justices a positive approval rating – as opposed to 59 percent who gave them a negative rating. By a margin of 54-32, respondents said they believe that the justices too often let their own personal or political views influence their decisions, as opposed to deciding cases based on legal analysis without regard to their own personal or political views.

McLaughlin & Associates also asked participants their views on a number of other Supreme Court-related issues that, while not a focus of the CCT, indicate that the public is not satisfied with the status quo at the court.

For example, 86 percent of those surveyed favor requiring Supreme Court justices to follow the Judicial Code of Conduct, the ethical code that other federal judges are required to follow, from which High Court justices are currently exempt.

Seventy-one percent of participants said that the practice of lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices should be abolished, and instead justices should serve only a fixed term. When pushed for specifics, 69 percent supported a term limits proposal whereby justices would serve a fixed term of 18 years, staggered in a way that a new justice would be appointed every two years.

The results of the McLaughlin & Associates research are consistent with other recent national surveys on the Supreme Court. A survey conducted April 16-24, 2014, by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Democracy Corps found 71 percent of respondents – 1,004 Americans 18 and older – support cameras in the Supreme Court, and 67 percent support live audio. In March 2013 a Fox News poll of 1,002 registered voters found 77 percent support cameras at the High Court.

See the full poll results

CCT Applauds Video Live-Stream of 2nd Circuit Hearing

NEW YORK – The Coalition for Court Transparency, an alliance of media and legal organizations that advocate for a more open and accountable federal courts system, released the following statement today following arguments in the Second Circuit NSA surveillance case, ACLU v. Clapper:

We are pleased the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted C-SPAN’s request to live-stream video of arguments today in ACLU v. Clapper and hope other federal appeals courts will follow the Second Circuit’s lead. Further, we applaud Judge Lynch for explaining to viewers how appellate hearings work. Federal appeals courts adjudicate hundreds of cases per year that impact the lives of millions of Americans, and as citizens we believe we have the right to see or hear them in real time, no matter the subject matter or where in the country they may occur.

Supreme Court Justices’ Financial Disclosure Reports Released On Paper More Than A Month After Due Date

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Supreme Court justices traveled the globe, received tens of thousands of dollars in book royalties and held tens of millions in personal assets in 2013, according to annual financial disclosure reports released today and obtained by the Coalition for Court Transparency, an alliance of media and legal organizations that advocate for a more open and accountable Supreme Court.

Despite recent calls from the coalition to release these documents online – as is done by the President, Vice President, and members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate – only paper copies of the reports were made available to the public, either by mail or by visiting the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington.

“Today, given the Internet,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his 2014 majority opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC, “disclosure offers much more robust protections against corruption.” As such, since the judiciary itself is reluctant to post disclosure reports online, the coalition has done so at http://bit.ly/2013SCOTUSfinancials.

Further, the justices’ reports were released two weeks later than last year and more than a month after disclosure reports from top executive and legislative branch officials became public. By statute, the financial disclosures of high-ranking federal officials are due by May 15 to their respective ethics offices.

“The media have the right to know about any activities public officials engage in that may influence how they conduct the people’s business,” said Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association and Foundation. “That our nation’s top judges make it purposely harder to obtain this information – especially ‘given the Internet’ – does not conform to 21st century expectations of transparency from public officials.”

“Taxpayers, and all Americans, deserve an open and transparent Supreme Court,” said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. “There is absolutely no reason why the justices can’t file their annual disclosure reports in an open and timely manner. The highest court in the United States should be the leader in the effort to build a more transparency federal judiciary.”

Prior to the release of the reports, the coalition had been in contact with Judge John Bates, the director of the Administrative Office, and Judge Joseph McKinley Jr., chairman of the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Financial Disclosure, to encourage the federal judiciary to place the justices’ – and all federal judges’ – annual disclosure reports online.

This correspondence has been productive, and the coalition has requested that the issue of online disclosures be placed on the Judicial Conference’s agenda at its September meeting. Additionally, the Administrative Office did use e-mail earlier this week when it notified the coalition of the time at which the paper reports would be ready for pickup.

Annual financial disclosure requirements are part of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, which compels highranking federal officials, including Supreme Court justices, to publicize their personal financial interests in order to identify and prevent conflicts of interest and ensure that they are following their respective ethical guidelines.

The reports present a more complete picture of the justices’ lives beyond the bench and offer clues as to why they recuse themselves in individual cases, when they decide to accept a case or at argument. Currently, the justices refuse to explain their reasons for recusal, leaving the public to make an educated guess based on information presented in disclosure reports, such as financial holdings, as to what may pose a conflict of interests.