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.”

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[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