Supreme Court Expands Oral Argument Video Initiative to Jackson

November 8, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court is continuing its initiative to be more transparent and open.  Starting in November 2019, Supreme Court oral arguments taking place in Jackson will be videotaped and made available to the public. Oral arguments that were held November 6 are now posted on the Court’s website. Oral arguments were first video recorded in Nashville in October 2018.

Under the Tennessee Constitution, the Tennessee Supreme Court rotates where it hears oral arguments for cases between the three grand divisions. The Court typically hears cases in Nashville in February, May, and October; Jackson in March, June, and November; and Knoxville in January, April, and September. The Court also typically hears oral arguments at a Tennessee high school or college in the fall through its award-winning SCALES program and at the American Legion Auxiliary Volunteer Girls State and America Legion Boys State in the spring. The videos from the October 2018, February 2019, and October 2019 oral arguments held in Nashville have received  between 300 and 600 plays each.

In a typical case, lawyers for both sides first file extensive written briefs to the Court. During oral arguments, the attorneys are given a set time to argue their positions, with the justices interjecting questions throughout. After review and discussion, which can take several months, the Supreme Court then issues its written decision.

Tennessee Supreme Court oral arguments have always been open to the public, but few Tennesseans are able to make it to a court session live. The Supreme Court began posting audio recordings of oral arguments on its website in 2013.  The video gives lawyers, students, and others a more realistic feel of the interaction between the Court and attorneys during oral argument, which often includes unscripted questioning and debate.

The video system includes four separate cameras, allowing the view to toggle between the attorney at the podium and the individual justices on the bench during the oral argument. The cameras are operated from a control room located elsewhere in the courthouse. 

These are not the first cameras to enter Tennessee courtrooms as the Tennessee Supreme Court was an early adopter of rules that allow media video cameras and still photographers in courtrooms statewide. The Supreme Court of the United States and several states still allow no, or extremely limited, media access to the courts. In the past year, several trials, including the two-week trial of Zachary Adams for the murder of Holly Bobo, have been livestreamed from Tennessee courtrooms on multiple media outlets worldwide.

The video of oral arguments will be available on the tncourts.gov website 48 hours after oral argument. Documents related to cases before the Tennessee Supreme Court are available on tncourts.gov under the Public Case History, which receives nearly 200,000 page hits a year.  In total, the tncourts.gov website receives over 5 million page views each year, almost all from Tennesseans.