Tennessee appellate courts recently livestreamed their 1,000th case, greatly improving accessibility and transparency in the court system. While the Tennessee Supreme Court began video recording oral arguments in October of 2018, these recordings were posted several days to weeks later. The first appellate case was livestreamed in April 2020.
“The Supreme Court is always looking for ways to improve transparency. Livestreaming is one of the great advances to come out of the pandemic,” Chief Justice Roger A. Page said. “Transparency builds confidence and trust in the court system. We have always welcomed the public into the courtroom, but livestreaming opens the doors to thousands of more viewers.”
In total, appellate oral arguments have been viewed over 140,000 times on the judiciary’s two YouTube channels, which were necessary because the different appellate courts often hold oral arguments simultaneously. Oral arguments have been watched for over 41,000 hours. Prior to the pandemic, the three appellate courts provided audio files of oral arguments 21 days after the proceeding.
Livestreaming started as a way to ensure public access when oral arguments were held virtually early in the pandemic. The Tennessee Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opted to keep livestreaming when oral arguments returned to the courtroom.
“After appearing on Zoom for just over two years, it felt natural to start livestreaming our in-person cases too when we returned to the courtroom,” said Judge Michael Swiney, the Court of Appeals presiding judge. “Inviting the public to watch vastly improves understanding of how the appellate courts and entire judiciary operate. I think for clients in particular it was always this great mystery as to what happened at oral arguments. Now they can pull it up on YouTube and see for themselves what questions were asked and what issues were the focus of discussion.”
The Court of Appeals leads the way with over 633 cases livestreamed in the past two years. More than 3,000 people subscribe to the two TNCourts YouTube channels.
The Court of Criminal Appeals was the first Tennessee appellate court to livestream an in-person hearing and has livestreamed several high-profile cases that garnered thousands of views each.
“I am always in favor of increasing the visibility and understanding of our court,” Judge John Everett Williams, presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, said. “We know lawyers are using the previous cases to prepare for oral arguments. By seeing the types of questions asked, the decorum in the courtroom, and the overall process, they come in better prepared. We also know teachers and professors at all levels are playing clips during class and assigning specific cases as homework. Our country and communities benefit when there is better understanding of the courts and our constitutions.”
Livestreams can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/user/TNCourts/featured and https://www.youtube.com/c/TNCourts2. Archives are available on YouTube and in each court’s section of the www.tncourts.gov website.
A highlight reel of oral arguments from all three courts is embedded below.