On February 7, 2018, Florida made history as the first state supreme court to live stream its oral arguments on Facebook.

Florida’s state courts have a history of being early adopters of new technology and its role in the courtroom.  While not the first to permit electronic media coverage of court proceedings, in 1976, Florida announced an experimental program allowing the television of one civil and one criminal trial with the consent of parties. This program was expanded to permit electronic media coverage of all judicial proceedings without consent of parties for a one-year period. After reviewing surveys of relevant court participants, the Florida Supreme Court amended its rules, permanently allowing electronic media coverage of all trial and appellate proceedings.  This rule was challenged in the Supreme Court in Chandler v. Florida (1981) where the Court ultimately held that it is neither Constitutionally mandated or prohibited to allow electronic media coverage of a judicial proceeding. Since 1981, all states have adopted a rule allowing electronic media coverage of appellate proceedings and several federal appellate courts have begun video recording their oral arguments (they, unlike their state counterparts, do not allow observers to record the arguments).

In January 2018, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga announced that the Florida Supreme Court would begin live streaming its oral arguments on its official Facebook page beginning in February.  Touting ideals of openness and transparency for the courtroom, Chief Justice Labarga hopes to show the country how social media can be used positively to enhance the courts, in balance with the First Amendment, just as it showed could be done with cameras over 40 years ago.  Florida has provided gavel to gavel coverage of its Supreme Court oral arguments since 1997, hosting the videos on a separate website. Now, however, the official Florida Supreme Court Facebook page will “go Live” for oral arguments.  Additionally, oral arguments recordings will be archived on the Facebook page.  As of March 23, 2018, the oral argument video recordings from March 6 & 7, 2018 have over 3,000 views each.

Will Florida’s intermediate appellate courts follow suit?  Will other state supreme courts again follow Florida’s example to modernize their own courts?  How will the United States Supreme Court respond?  The answers to all of these questions are presently unclear.  However, Florida’s example is sure to spark conversation in other judiciaries about the use of Facebook (or other technologies) to live stream appellate oral arguments.

Mitchell Galloway

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