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Bring On The Appeals

Photo by Jude Joffe-Block

The entrance to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco.

PHOENIX -- Since I follow immigration issues in Arizona, I'm keeping my eye on several legal cases dealing with that issue that are making their way through the federal courts.

When cases are litigated up to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals -- such as two Arizona immigration-related cases that are holding oral arguments there this week -- my job gets a little easier.

That's because the Ninth Circuit has been a leader in the federal court system in granting the public and media access to court proceedings.

The Ninth Circuit, which covers the Western U.S. and Hawaii and Alaska, pioneered allowing cameras in federal courtrooms. These days the court allows most electronic devices, including laptops and smartphones. TV and radio reporters can even submit requests to not only record the proceedings, but broadcast them live.

This is a welcome change, considering in most federal district courts, broadcast reporters and photographers must check their equipment at the door. In many instances, phones must be kept off.

Since I rarely get to attend Ninth Circuit hearings in person, what matters to me even more than the courtroom rules is the court's web savvy.

Opinions are published on the court website and are easy to find. And perhaps best of all, audio of oral arguments are posted within a day.

That feature is allowing me to eavesdrop after the fact on the latest twist in the fight over Arizona's SB 1070, which was heard on Wednesday in San Francisco.

The argument was over whether a lower court judge was right to block a provision of SB 1070 that made it a state crime for day laborers who are seeking work to disrupt traffic.

Curious how it went? Listen here.

I'll be checking back soon to hear what happens on Friday in a different case, when plaintiffs will try to convince circuit judges that a 2006 Arizona voter initiative, Proposition 100, should be struck down. That proposition denies bail hearings to immigrants who are arrested on certain felony charges and are believed to be in the country illegally.

That kind of access isn't being offered in any other courts I cover. Though to be fair, the question of media access is often more complex in those courts.

Other courts have constraints that federal appellate courts don't have, such as juries who could be influenced by media coverage, or witnesses whose safety could be compromised if their testimony went viral.

Still, there are plenty of ways other courts can learn from the Ninth Circuit's example of openness. It sure would make it easier to follow along.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.