Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Letter to D.C. Circuit Re: Audio Access Policy

This letter was sent today to Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Dear Chief Judge Garland:

After reading the D.C. Circuit’s new media policy, which welcomes media coverage of cases to inform the public, I am writing to ask for your consideration of a related matter: access to argument audio.  My interest is as a lawyer, freelance journalist, and citizen.

The U.S. Supreme Court and eight federal appellate circuits make argument audio available in pending cases, via their websites, free of charge.  Five circuits, including the D.C. Circuit, do not.

Of those five circuits, the D.C. Circuit’s policy is the most restrictive, granting no public access until a case is closed.  The Second, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits make audio available in pending cases, via CD purchase.  The Tenth Circuit requires a motion to obtain audio; if granted, a copy is emailed.  Per a call to the Tenth Circuit clerk’s office this morning, those motions are routinely granted.

The D.C. Circuit hears cases that affect citizens throughout the country; as a current example, the recess-appointments matter.  Members of the media who do not happen to be in D.C. are not able to listen to and report on D.C. Circuit arguments.  There are also interested members of the public and the legal community in other parts of the country who would like to listen to and inform themselves directly of these crucial, public proceedings, but are unable to do so.  The courtroom cannot always accommodate all interested persons in D.C., either.

This gap of public access is particularly notable since the Supreme Court, famously cautious on access, has been posting its audio to the web since 2010.  The nearby Federal and Fourth Circuits both post audio to the web.

It would be a meaningful step forward for public information, if the D.C. Circuit would review its current policy and join the Supreme Court and most of its sister circuits in offering free access to argument audio online.

Thank you for your consideration.