Asked and Answered

Matthew Schneider on Live Streaming of MSC Oral Arguments

By Steve Thorpe
sthorpe@legalnews.com

The Michigan Supreme Court has begun live streaming of oral arguments via the Internet. Live streaming the court’s hearings “is a natural extension of this court’s commitment to transparency,” said Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. “We are using technology to improve public service,” he said. “If the public can see this court in action — now from their own PCs and in the convenient settings of home, office, or school — they will be better informed about their government.” The Supreme Court has long made its hearings available outside the Hall of Justice, broadcasting oral arguments and other proceedings via Michigan Government Television beginning in 1996 (MGTV ceased broadcasting in December). Matthew Schneider is the Supreme Court’s Chief of Staff and General Counsel.

Thorpe: Tell us about the new system and how it works, both for the court and the viewers.

Schneider: We have our own cameras in the Supreme Court courtroom, which we formerly used to film and transmit video to MGTV. Now the same cameras tie into digital streaming equipment, so we can share with viewers what’s happening in the courtroom in real time. Anyone with an Internet connection can now watch Supreme Court hearings - not only oral arguments, but also the Court’s administrative hearings and special events.

Thorpe: Some other courts, notably in the federal system, have strongly resisted cameras in the courtroom, let alone live streaming. Why is the MSC out front on this issue?

Schneider: Many in the federal courts believe that having cameras in the courtroom would distort the proceedings in that the litigants would be concerned about how they appear to an audience. Justice Anthony Kennedy said during a recent House Appropriations hearing that he believes cameras would introduce “an insidious dynamic” to the courtroom. That has not been our experience in the Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan’s courts have allowed cameras in the courtroom since 1989; in addition, the Michigan Supreme Court started televising its proceedings in 1996. Perhaps because video coverage has been such a long-standing fact of life for this Court and other Michigan state courts, everyone involved has gotten used to it, so knowing that the Court is on camera is really not affecting the proceedings.

Offering video streaming is also part of the Michigan Supreme Court’s commitment to open government. If you look at MCR 8.116(D) and 8.119(F), which deal, respectively, with access to court proceedings and sealed records, you see that the presumption is strongly in favor of public access and that the court has to meet a serious burden of showing good cause before limiting access to either proceedings or records. Video streaming takes that commitment to open government one step further: the Supreme Court courtroom is not only physically open to the public, it’s also available online, and very conveniently so.

Thorpe: Are all the justices enthusiastic volunteers in this video army, or are some reluctant draftees?

Schneider: I think everyone is supportive. As I said, video coverage has been part of the Court’s hearings for so long that it really is not an issue.

Thorpe: How can viewers find out which cases are coming up and when they can be viewed?

Schneider: The oral arguments schedule is on the Court’s website at http://courts.mi.gov/Courts/MichiganSupremeCourt/Clerks/Oral-Arguments/Pages/default.aspx. That schedule not only provides the schedule, but also links to individual cases and their briefs. About a week before arguments, we also post case summaries prepared by the Court’s Public Information Office.

Thorpe: What’s the link for the streaming video?

Schneider: It is http://courts.mi.gov/Courts/MichiganSupremeCourt/Clerks/Oral-Arguments/Pages/live-streaming.aspx . You’ll also find a link to the oral arguments schedule on that page.

Thorpe: Does the court have plans for additional live video?

Schneider:
We will have live video of other events from the courtroom - for example, Michigan Adoption Day — and I can see other uses for the stream to share information about the courts.
The Supreme Court already has its own YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/MichiganCourts?feature=plcp. Online video is a great medium, and we hope to reach a wider audience that way.