More Public Access to Court: D.C. to Release Oral Argument Audio

By Kelly Cheung on May 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals announced in its press release that it will begin offering oral argument audio recordings online.

The recordings will be free of charge and will be posted on the court's website by 3:00 p.m. the same day of the oral argument. Be on the lookout for this much appreciated level of public access as it becomes available starting in the court's 2013-2014 term on September 9, 2013.

The judges voted unanimously to adopt this oral argument audio policy on May 14, 2013. Some may want to thank Michelle Olsen of Appellate Daily for her passion for public access. She wrote a letter to Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland asking for the new media policy. She noted that the U.S Supreme Court and eight federal appellate circuits offered oral argument audio online for the public free of charge. Until this last week, only five, including D.C., did not.

Olsen further stated to Chief Judge Garland that D.C. was the most restrictive of the circuit courts by not allowing public access to cases until they were closed. With the importance of this circuit's cases to citizens throughout the U.S., it was important to Olsen that online audio be made available.

Olsen was too late though. The court had already agreed with her suggestion by voting and approving the new media policy a week earlier. The court also will make available an archive of audio recordings going back to the 2007-2008 term as well.

Chief Garland announced that "the court is pleased to provide this new level of public access to our proceedings."

This is a great step towards free online public access to court records. The government has been under fire for not allowing sufficient public access to the government particularly PACER, the online court public access service. Efforts continue to be made to push courts and the government to be more transparent.

RECAP is one project that works to helps improve PACER and allow more citizens access court documents for free. It was inspired by the heroic yet tragic story of Aaron Swartz who faced a federal criminal investigation for downloading and releasing millions of federal court documents from PACER. While PACER charges per page, RECAP allows users of Firefox or Chrome browsers to save documents they purchase from PACER and donate them to an online open repository for public access.

Changes are continuing to be made for public access to our courts with the help of attorneys, activists, and citizens. We can all appreciate the D.C. Circuit Court's movement towards more public access to their judicial process.

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