Supreme Court to hear oral arguments by telephone in May

High court will also look to livestreaming of proceedings

The Supreme Court announced it will hear oral arguments via teleconference in May, new territory brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The Supreme Court announced it will hear oral arguments via teleconference in May, new territory brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 13, 2020 at 10:57am

The Supreme Court will tread new ground next month with cases that were postponed because of COVID-19 health concerns, deciding to hold the first-ever oral arguments by telephone conference during a two-week period that starts May 4.

Among the cases: President Donald Trump’s personal challenge to congressional subpoenas for his financial and tax records from Mazars USA and Deutsche Bank, and new rules on an exception to the contraceptive mandate in the 2010 health care law.

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The justices and counsel will all participate remotely, another part of the physical distancing mandates and stay-at-home orders across the nation aimed slowing the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

The phone procedure means the court is looking to enter another new era when it comes to allowing public access. “The Court anticipates providing a live audio feed of these arguments to news media,” the Supreme Court said in its statement.

When the court building closed due to the pandemic, advocates for more access to Supreme Court proceedings called for live audio as a way to balance the competing concerns of public safety and public access.

C-SPAN Networks has previously tweeted that it would provide all streamed arguments live and archive them online — meaning the potential for Americans nationwide, staying at home amid the outbreak, to tune in as it happens.

The telephone arguments will be held May 4-6 and 11-13 for cases that were scheduled for March and April but were postponed. Cases will be assigned argument dates once the lawyers are contacted about their availability.

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The high court also told lawyers in other cases that the remainder of the postponed March and April arguments will be conducted “early in the 2020 term,” those lawyers said.

The Supreme Court closed its building to the public weeks ago, but before Monday had left unanswered what would happen to the cases that remain on its schedule. The court traditionally finishes all its work for the term by the end of June.

The justices have well-worn defenses of why streaming or television cameras in the courtroom would be harmful to their work. Lawyers would be tempted to grandstand to have their soundbite on the evening news, they have told Congress, or justices would filter their questions at the risk of being taken out of context.

The coronavirus apparently has forced their hand.