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.