By Tyler Cooper
The House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Courts, IP and the Internet held a hearing today titled, “Federal Courts During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Best Practices, Opportunities for Innovation, and Lessons for the Future.” Testifying at the hearing remotely were Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme CourtBridget Mary McCormack; former Federal Judicial Center Director Jeremy Fogel; the chair of Judicial Conference Committee on Rules, D. Ariz. Judge David Campbell; and Reporters Committee policy analyst Melissa Wasser.
Of particular interest to the representatives and witnesses alike was the increased measures of transparency the courts had adopted to facilitate business through a pandemic and how they could be extended as certain places begin to consider a transition back to the courthouse. Rep. Lou Correa made it clear that he viewed the experiment incorporating these measures as an unmitigated success, saying, “I don’t think your branch of government [the judiciary] has the luxury of time to [further] study the issue. […] Courts at all levels are managing this crisis by adopting, by changing.” Chief Justice McCormack agreed with the sentiment and to that point had testified earlier to the fact that, “public trust is the only currency courts have,” and transparency measures allow the court to show the public its work rather than just its answers.
Support for transparency measures crossed party lines and was evident from even just the limited time each member had at their disposal during this hearing. Some notable excerpts are below, including the ultimate hypo from the chair:
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) – “We as members of Congress have our proceedings televised on C-SPAN, streamed on YouTube. […] In my opinion the same should be true of our federal judiciary.” (LINK)
Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) – “I was thrilled to see the Supreme Court allow for real-time audio of oral arguments this session. This is a worthy reform for our federal judiciary and I hope that it will remain in place long after the coronavirus crisis ends.” (LINK)
Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) – “And I hope that we will not go back to business as usual [in the federal courts] after COVID-19.” (LINK)
Chairman Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) – “What message to the public would the Supreme Court send if it decided to stop [livestreaming] its proceedings?” (LINK)