Published on: Thursday, May 11, 2023

The federal judiciary said Thursday that remote access in district courts around the nation will come to a close this fall, noting that the Judicial Conference Executive Committee has found "the COVID-19 emergency is no longer affecting the functioning of the federal courts" (article available here).

The country's federal district courts shifted to allow phone and sometimes video access to hearings after the pandemic shuttered courthouses in March 2020. Remote access to criminal proceedings that was authorized under COVID-era legislation ended on Wednesday, and it will end for other cases on Sept. 21.

The end of remote criminal court access means the public and media must now attend hearings in-person.

The policy changes do not apply to the thousands of state and local courts in the United States, many of which allow cameras in their courtrooms.

The changes by the executive committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference were announced the same day that the U.S. government is ending the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, which granted Americans access to free testing and vaccines in order to curb the pandemic's spread.

Unlike U.S. district courts, all 13 federal appeals courts, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, now offer live streams of their oral arguments. Only two of those courts -- the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and D.C. Circuit -- had live streams before 2020. The Ninth Circuit is the only court to offer a video live stream, and all other federal circuits feature only audio access.