Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Quigley Moves to Protect Public Access to Court Proceedings

News from Congressman Mike Quigley

Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) introduced the Court Access Amid the Pandemic Act, which would authorize video and teleconferencing of judicial proceedings during the COVID-19 emergency period. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced federal courts across the country to change their daily operations to protect the wellbeing of the Justices, court staff, and the public. Quigley’s bill would enable public access to these proceedings while experts recommend against gatherings.

Specifically, this bill:

  • Requires any arguments heard in a circuit court via audio or videoconference to be livestreamed to the public, and
  • Expands on the CARES Act section on audio/videoconferencing trial court proceedings to open them up to the media either by livestream on the court’s website or by coordinating with a third party to provide the livestream.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure press and public access to judicial proceedings continues during this outbreak. While the Supreme Court took a step in the right direction by allowing oral arguments to be heard via telephone conference, we can do more to develop and adopt new technologies to preserve the transparency of our federal courts while practicing safe social distancing,” said Quigley. “After this pandemic ends, I will work with the judiciary to continue using these newly implemented technologies to keep the judiciary accessible.”

“Of course the public should have access to the remote proceedings our federal courts are holding during the pandemic,” Fix the Court Executive Director Gabe Roth said. “Some courts have recognized this imperative and are offering live broadcasts, but this timely legislation would go a step further and codify a uniform broadcast policy in the appeals courts and a uniform broadcast policy in the trial courts. I am appreciative of Rep. Quigley’s strong, continued support of increased access to the judiciary.”

“Transparency and public access are essential to an effective and accountable government,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, Policy Analyst at the Project on Government Oversight. “During tumultuous times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is all the more crucial to make certain that every facet of the federal government is both operational and open to the public. That is why Rep. Quigley should be commended for acting to ensure that federal courts remain functional and transparent by requiring video teleconferencing and real-time broadcasting of oral arguments. Hard times are no excuse for opacity and this bill ensures that federal court proceedings will continue to operate in the full light of day.” 

This legislation has been endorsed by Fix the Court, Open the Government, Project on Government Oversight, Demand Progress, and R Street.

Quigley has consistently called for increased judicial transparency. This Congress, he introduced the Transparency in Government Act, a transparency omnibus bill that included a provision to require open proceedings of the Supreme Court to be televised and audio recorded. Quigley also sent a letter to the Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts explaining why it is important to modernize and allow real-time audio and video access to all Court proceedings. Additionally, Quigley introduced the 21st Century Courts Act, which requires the Supreme Court to immediately provide same-day audio recordings of all arguments and opinion readings, and the Eyes on the Courts Act, which requires cameras to be permitted in the Supreme Court.

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