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After Tens of Thousands Tune In Live to Hear Second Circuit Debate Trump Docs, Will SCOTUS Allow Similar Access?

Following a request from Fix the Court and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and thanks to the participation of C-SPAN, the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals this morning livestreamed argument audio in a case concerning whether the president may shield his tax returns from Manhattan prosecutors.

Yet as arguments wrapped up, both the three-judge panel and the attorneys agreed that the suit was soon headed to the Supreme Court, which means its next iteration will likely be hidden from the public – or at least those of us unable to fit into the courtroom at One First Street.

“Today’s livestream in the Second Circuit – not to mention routine livestreams in the Ninth and D.C. Circuits – demonstrates that technology is nothing to be afraid of,” FTC’s Gabe Roth said. “The Supreme Court can learn something here from its appellate counterparts.”

By press time, more than 40,000 people1 had already tuned in to listen to the arguments, indicating heightened interest in the case. For comparison, the Oct. 16 Mathena v. Malvo Supreme Court arguments only have 929 views to date on C-SPAN.org.

Despite a crowded courtroom, two overflow rooms with video access and live audio streams running on C-SPAN.org and NBC News’ YouTube page, not to mention the political nature of the case, the arguments were conducted with comity: neither the judges nor the attorneys took the opportunity to grandstand.

That the argument could invoke such contentious issues and still stay civil reaffirms our belief that transparency does not undermine justice. For example, at one point attorney Carey Dunne, representing the Manhattan DA, argued that the president’s view of immunity would allow him to walk down Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and local police would be powerless to stop him until articles of impeachment were brought by Congress.

FTC has advocated increased transparency from other appellate courts across the country in recent weeks. Along with the National Association of Black Journalists and RTDNA, we requested live audio from the Fifth Circuit in an Oct. 21 capital case, and with the Atlanta Press Club and the Georgia First Amendment Association, we asked for live audio from the Eleventh Circuit in two November capital cases.

The Fifth Circuit rejected our request, writing, “[C]urrent court rules prohibit livestreaming or any other real-time audio-video recording of oral argument sessions.” We are still awaiting word from the Eleventh Circuit.

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*At press time (1:30 p.m. ET), web counters on C-SPAN.org (31,374 views) and YouTube (8,701 views) indicated that the arguments had been streamed 40,075 times.

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