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January 14, 2017

You can now watch videos of oral arguments in Philly's federal appeals court

Courts Justice
federal courthouse Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania at Sixth and Market streets in Philadelphia.

In a move meant to make the justice system more accessible to the general public, Philadelphia's federal appeals court will now post videos of oral arguments to its website.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit announced the decision Friday. Federal judiciary policy allows each regional court of appeals to decide for itself whether to broadcast oral arguments, and the Third Circuit becomes the second federal appeals court to implement the practice.

The Ninth Circuit based in San Francisco was the first, according to the Associated PressThe Third Circuit considers appeals from federal courts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as cases from federal agencies. 

“Beyond the principle of openness, we see the availability of video recordings of our oral arguments as a contribution to civics education of the citizenry at large," Third Circuit Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith said in a press release.

Former Third Circuit Chief Judge Theodore A. McKee had a study conducted in 2014 to look at the possibility of posting oral arguments. At the time, McKee said he was hopeful the study would "result in changes" that help to educate the public.

Under the court's new policy, video recordings or oral arguments will be posted when they are "deemed to be of significant interest to the public, the bar, or the academic community."

Counsel in cases will recommend whether or not video of arguments should be posted, but the decision will ultimately be made by the judge. Audio recordings and written summaries of arguments will still be available for all cases.

"Making these videos available opens a window through which the public will see the essential role that our federal judiciary plays in ensuring equal justice for all," Smith said.