June 7, 2011

Will the California Supreme Court permit advocates to use iPads at oral argument?

As we noted here, appellate justices around the country are swiftly coming to rely on iPads and other tablet computers when reviewing briefs and draft opinions. The justices of the California Supreme Court appear to be no exception. But this is not the only way that iPads are likely to impact practice before the Court. iPads are also likely to affect oral argument as advocates increasingly seek to have their own iPads with them at the lectern because they contain their oral argument outlines and case notes.

We see an obvious upside to permitting advocates to use this powerful yet compact and unobtrusive tool at argument. At present, however, the Court severely restricts the use of electronic devices at argument. Laptop computers, for example, must be surrendered to the Court’s security detail unless an advocate receives advance permission from the Court to bring a laptop into the courtroom. So, will the Court grant an attorney’s request to use an iPad at argument? We think it likely that a proper request would be granted but we can’t say for sure. By way of analogy, we note that the Second District Court of Appeal has granted at least one such request, but some of its justices have expressed concern that iPads could be used to make unauthorized audio or video recordings of court proceedings.

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