The Florida Supreme Court will start livestreaming oral arguments via Facebook next month, a move toward transparency that few, if any, other courts have made.
The state’s high court has streamed and archived video of proceedings online for more than 20 years through a partnership with Florida State University. But adding using Facebook Live to stream “will be our next step in moving this highly successful model of openness into the 21st century,” Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said in a statement Tuesday.
Facebook Live is a tool that allows users to livestream events through the social media platform using their phone or camera.
Florida was already decades ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, which are still hemming and hawing over broadcasting court proceedings. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts said in October livestreaming ”could adversely affect the character and quality of the dialogue between the attorneys and Justices.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which includes Miami, only agreed in 2016 to post audio of proceedings online at all, falling behind nearly all the other federal appellate courts. Some circuits have adopted audio livestreaming—the D.C. Court of Appeals did so last month—but most have not.
State court systems tend to be more open, but livestreaming is still new to some. New York’s state appellate courts completed their move to live video in September.
Florida was the first state to allow TV news stations to broadcast from courtrooms in 1975, “a time when every other court in the nation refused it,” Labarga said in Tuesday’s statement.
“This court’s experiment with transparency showed everyone a better way to balance First Amendment rights against the rights of people involved in a trial or appeal,” he said.
The Florida Supreme Court is likely breaking new ground by livestreaming via social media. A court spokesman said a message to a nationwide listserv of state court public information officers turned up no other courts that took the same leap toward transparency.
The move to Facebook Live is part of a broader effort to raise public awareness about Florida courts. In 2015, the state’s justices unanimously approved a communication plan that included expanding the Florida Supreme Court’s social media presence and launching a podcast called “Beyond the Bench.”
The justices’ goal is not just transparency for transparency’s sake. Labarga and his colleagues have said they believe increasing the visibility of the court system’s work will help stave off the existential threat posed by state budget cuts. Last year, Florida judges got their first pay raise in 10 years.
“If people don’t understand that we’re doing justice well, it is a problem for our long-term security and freedom,” Justice C. Alan Lawson said last year. “Get some stories to go viral.”