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FTC Cheers Broadcast Win in Fifth Circuit

Circuit Court Agrees to Post Audio of Proceedings Within 15 Minutes

Update (12:04 p.m. CT): audio posted here.

Fix the Court joined with Mississippi Public Broadcasting this week to request an expedited release of the oral argument recording in a Fifth Circuit en banc voting rights hearing. To our surprise, not only did the court agree to post argument audio within 15 minutes, but it also announced its intent to make such treatment routine.

The case in question is 19-60133, Thomas v. Reeves, a Voting Rights Act dispute concerning the boundaries of Mississippi Senate districts, which advocates say dilute the power of black voters.

“I commend the Fifth Circuit for evaluating and updating its broadcast policies, and I hope other circuits follow suit,” FTC’s Gabe Roth said. “Should the proposed changes be implemented, the public will have improved access to the workings of its judiciary, whether or not they can attend the arguments in person.”

Responding to the request, Fifth Circuit Clerk Lyle Cayce wrote, “We will post the audio immediately after the arguments. It may take 15 minutes or so to save and convert the files, but we promise we will do it as quickly as possible.”

He added that the court is considering making this type of expedited release standard.

The win comes on the heels of a new bill that would require increased broadcast access across the judiciary. The bipartisan Eyes on the Courts Act, introduced on Jan. 16, would require federal appeals courts, including the Supreme Court, to livestream oral argument audio, video or both.

The Fifth Circuit has resisted previous attempts at live audio requests but has occasionally agreed to expedited audio in specific cases. For example, the Fifth Circuit declined a live audio request for In Re: Rebekah Gee (19-30353), a hearing on Louisiana’s new laws restricting access to abortion, but agreed to post audio “within one hour of the completion of the hearing.”

Appellate courts vary widely in their allowance of broadcast access. Some circuits, including the Ninth Circuit, allow live audio and video access, and some provide argument audio within one day, while the Supreme Court only releases argument audio at the end of the week. Fix the Court monitors the circuits’ policies and regularly requests live or expedited audio in cases of heightened public interest.

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