If you’re interested in a legal topic, it’s worth making a habit of reading legal blogs that discuss the subject. Any Virginia lawyer with an interest in appeals would tell you that Steve Emmert’s Virginia Appeals blog is among the best for following Virginia appellate law. And, generally speaking, disagreeing with eminent advocates like Mr. Emmert is not a good sign.
But in an otherwise great January 13 post that praised the Supreme Court of Virginia starting to make oral argument audio recordings available online, he said something that we couldn’t disagree with more:
“…. without any advance announcement, the Supreme Court of Virginia has begun to make publicly available the audio of oral arguments during sessions of the full court. (There will be no access to writ-panel arguments, but you shouldn’t be greedy.) ….” [emphasis added]
Now, that emphasized bit above may have been merely an expression. We don’t believe that Mr. Emmert would oppose or disagree with even greater access. And it is entirely appropriate to be thankful for the court’s decision to start providing audio. But that statement is wrong on two levels.
First, it is not greedy to want more openness in government generally or in the law in particular. Openness and transparency makes government and law better. It provides legitimacy. It fosters knowledge and understanding. It helps the public. Openness is a benevolent principle.
Second, when it comes to public access, you should be greedy. To take just one example, with respect to public access to appellate courts, you should want Virginia to rank at the top of the 50 states, rather than toward the bottom. And it wouldn’t take much to get there. Virginia would been among the top ranking states if it had (i) live audio (which is possible and inexpensive given that audio is already being produced); (ii) online access to briefs (which already exist in electronic form); and (iii) opinions that can be cited over time (which could be achieved through a public domain citation system and/or freely-accessible electronic versions of the official Virginia Reports volumes).
So, Virginia, when it comes to greed for more public access to the law and government, remember this: we all have a stake in this company, and greed is good.