Kansas weighs whether to shield the identity of jurors

Earlier this year, the Kansas District Judges Association proposed a bill that would shield the names of jurors from the public. The bill passed both houses of the Kansas legislature. But the Kansas Press Association challenged the bill before a final vote could be taken, arguing that the state courts had obligations of transparency, and that hiding the identity of jurors made it more difficult to hold the justice system accountable. The judges’ association agreed, and reached a compromise with the press association that would make jurors’ names and addresses available, but not other information about them. The changes are expected to be worked out in legislative conference committee.

This is a nice example of the courts and the press recognizing the difficulty of balancing individual privacy and public duty in the modern age, and working together to address the problem. There is no simple answer, and while a handful of states do shield the identity of jurors completely, the Kansas Press Association is correct that public obligations like jury duty require a degree of public accountability. If we want to maintain a public system of dispute resolution, every member of the public needs to take ownership of it in an appropriate way.

 

Fourth Circuit mulls live streaming next month’s arguments on travel ban

The Fourth Circuit’s openness to live streaming comes in the wake of significant public interest in the Ninth Circuit’s live stream of similar arguments in February.  More the 137,000 people logged on to hear those arguments.

From the National Law Journal story:

Rob Rosborough, a partner at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in Albany, New York, added that he was “impressed by how accessible it made the proceedings seem in a highly technical case like that one.”

“You could hear phenomenal attorneys on both sides advocate for their clients on issues that had an impact on millions of people nationwide,” Rosborough said. “I do think that the Fourth Circuit, and all courts, should livestream arguments in all cases, especially in cases like the travel ban that have drawn such public interest.”

The Fourth Circuit has not live streamed arguments to date, although it does post audio files of arguments on its website the day after they are held.

Ravid on Tweeting #Justice

Itay Ravid (JSD candidate, Stanford) has posted his new article, Tweeting #Justice: Audio-Visual Coverage of Court Proceedings in a World of Shifting Technology, on SSRN. It should be of significant interest to readers of this blog who follow issues of comparative law and court transparency.  From the abstract:

The debate over whether to allow cameras into courtrooms refuses to fade away. In 2015 alone, U.S. federal courts completed a five-year experiment with cameras in courts, New Zealand published new guidelines for audio-visual coverage, and Scotland completely revised its former broadcast policy. These jurisdictions, and others around the globe, constantly struggle to design model practices that successfully balance freedom of the press, transparency, and public access to information, with rights to a fair trial and privacy. The constant need to rethink coverage policies can be attributed in large part to the advancement of technology, providing the media innovative tools to report from within courtrooms even when formal legal norms bar direct reports. These advancements often result in an unsettling disparity between formal norms and the reality of court coverage.

Drawing on the Israeli example, this Article seeks to address this timely issue, illustrating how social media and technological advancements can push regulators to re-evaluate legal regimes that seem to lag behind the law in action. The Article provides a systematic analysis of both doctrinal arguments and empirical data on the policies adopted by different common law jurisdictions, aiming to devise a policy framework for audio-visual coverage of courts in the age of hyper-technology. By synthesizing lessons from these jurisdictions, the Article first traces the evolution of the doctrine on audio-visual coverage across various jurisdictions, and its constitutional framing. Moreover, the Article exposes the politicization of constitutional law: how courts adopt flexible frameworks with regard to policies on constitutional issues that affect them. Second, the Article suggests that existing empirical data are generally supportive of coverage, showing almost no adverse effects resulting from the presence of cameras in courtrooms. Third, the Article provides practical tools for reaching balanced coverage policies, offering the first analytical framework for the design of coverage policies. The Article utilizes the Israeli case study—a country with currently no audio-visual coverage policy—in order to implement the suggested framework and offers a comprehensive coverage policy within Israeli courts.

New release of federal criminal justice data — only 3% of cases go to trial

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released its newest data on the federal criminal justice system, from 2013-14.  Among the highlights:

  • During 2014, federal law enforcement made 165,265 arrests, a 12% decrease from 188,164 arrests in 2013.
  • In 2014, the five federal judicial districts along the U.S.-Mexico border accounted for 61% of federal arrests, 55% of suspects investigated, and 39% of offenders sentenced to federal prison.
  • There were 81,881 federal immigration arrests made in 2014—one-half of all federal arrests.
  • Ninety-one percent of felons in cases terminated in U.S. district court in 2014 were convicted as the result of a guilty plea, 6% were dismissed, and 3% received a jury or bench trial.

While the data themselves are about two years behind, they obviously inform current policy debates.  The entire statistical package also gives a better sense of the coordination between the federal courts and the DEA, U.S. Marshals, federal prison system, and federal prosecutors.

Public interest in the Supreme Court is high, but knowledge is low. Should we worry?

The humdrum unanimity of Supreme Court cases is rarely conveyed to the public, even in passing.

CSPAN/PSB has released a new survey of more than 1000 likely voters, concerning their knowledge of and attitudes about the United States Supreme Court.  The results are not particularly encouraging for those who follow the Court closely.

Survey respondents reported very high interest in the Court generally: 90% of respondents agreed that “Supreme Court decisions have an impact on my everyday life as a citizen” and 82% indicated that the issue of Supreme Court appointments was important to their 2016 Presidential vote.  Sixty-five percent of respondents stated that they follow news stories about the Supreme Court “very often” or “somewhat often.”

But at the same time, actual familiarity with the Court and its members is middling at best.  Nearly 60% of survey respondents could not name a single Supreme Court Justice.  And while 71% of respondents said that they were following the recent news about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, only 28% could actually identify that nominee by name.

Also significant were the latest numbers regarding the public’s perception of the Court: 62% of survey respondents agreed that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions demonstrate that the Justices effectively split into parties, similar to Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  By contrast, only 38% of respondents thought that recent decisions demonstrate that the Court acts in a serious and constitutionally sound manner.

Results like these tend to trouble court watchers, both in terms of the general lack of civic knowledge and with respect to the public’s apparent belief that the Court is primarily political body.  These trends do require attention.  But a closer inspection suggests that there is no need to panic — at least not yet. Continue reading “Public interest in the Supreme Court is high, but knowledge is low. Should we worry?”

The Supreme Court is looking for a court photographer

(As long as you stay out of the courtroom, of course.)

Responsibilities of the job include documenting “the continuing history of the Supreme Court as an institution as well as the people who work at the Court, the architecture of the Supreme Court Building, and the historic objects and artwork in the Court’s Collection.”

Details here.

Updates on cameras in the courtroom

This has been a busy week for policies governing the use of courtroom cameras.

  • Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IN) introduced S.643, which I have seen alternately referred to as the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2017 or the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2017.  The Act would require open proceedings in the United States Supreme Court to be televised.  Similar legislation has already been introduced in the House. Variations of this Act have been introduced for many years, without success.
  • Several media outlets declared this week “Sunshine Week,” leading to editorials calling for allowing cameras into both state and federal courtrooms.
  • On its own volition, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has started posting video of its oral arguments online. The always terrific Howard Bashman has the details in a new column for the Legal Intelligencer. The Third Circuit’s press release, which provides more context for its decision to make videos available,  is here.

AO releases 2016 Annual Report and Statistics

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has published its 2016 Annual Report and statistical tables. Although many of the most interesting tables are not publicly released, those that are released provide a wealth of information on federal court dockets and operations. I will likely have more to say about the 2016 statistics in the coming days, once I have a chance to go through the tables a bit.

Intra-court feud brewing in Texas over online records access

For the past five years, Texas’s Office of Court Administration has worked to develop a statewide online database of court filings. The database, called re:SearchTX, covers all 254 counties in the state and is intended to provide a unified, centralized system for access to court filings, similar to the PACER system used by the federal courts. Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has advocated for the new system, noting in particular its ability more quickly and inexpensively to self-represented litigants.

But a smooth launch of re:SearchTX has been stymied by the local courts themselves. And now a bill has been filed in the state House that would allow individual counties to opt out of the system, radically weakening its utility.

Continue reading “Intra-court feud brewing in Texas over online records access”