Just like us, federal judges are continuing to grapple with the challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on their ability to do their jobs. Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. announced that April’s oral arguments in our case would take place telephonically or not at all. Since that time, the court has cancelled arguments for a substantial number of cases on its calendar, but EFF’s argument on behalf of the public’s right to access court documents in patent cases is among those the Court has scheduled for telephonic argument.
Whatever challenges lie ahead, courts must ensure that their proceedings remain as accessible to the public as possible.
Before the court ruled out in-person argument, EFF had filed a motion asking the court to make public video of the oral argument so that people unable to travel to the Washington, D.C., courtroom could see the argument too. The motion for video access was, of course, denied when in-person arguments were cancelled. But today, the Federal Circuit embraced the EFF’s push for live access to oral argument, announcing that it will provide “media and public access to the live audio of each panel scheduled for argument during the April 2020 session.”
This is the first time the Federal Circuit has provided the public and press with access to oral argument audio in real time. It will ensure that during the outbreak, the public and press do not altogether lose the ability to access court proceedings as they happen. We commend the Court for taking this crucial step to enhance public access. And we are deeply grateful to the court staff working to make sure that arguments can proceed and be heard by members of the press and public alike.
Whatever challenges lie ahead, courts must ensure that their proceedings remain as accessible to the public as possible. We hope this precedent cements the public’s right to remotely access oral arguments in real time, and paves the way for greater public access in the future.