Court Battles

Tech-averse Supreme Court broadcasts teleconference arguments

The Supreme Court on Monday broke with tradition and held oral arguments by conference call, a first for the famously tech-averse tribunal as the justices adapt to the global pandemic.

A live audio feed of the argument — a trademark dispute concerning the travel service Booking.com — gave the general public unprecedented access to the hearing in real time.  

As arguments opened, the justices allowed counsel two minutes of speaking time before posing questions, which began with Chief Justice John Roberts and proceeded to the other justices in order of seniority.

In another rarity, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who typically remains mum during arguments, posed a series of questions, the first time he has spoken this term. When Thomas spoke during arguments last year, he snapped a three-year silence.

The court’s embrace of teleconferencing represents a dramatic step for a court that has traditionally been wary of adopting new technologies and comes after the court postponed arguments in March and April in order to abide by social distancing policies.

Six of the nine justices are age 65 or older, placing them in a population that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers to be at risk for serious illness from the coronavirus. The older justices are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87; Stephen Breyer, 81; Clarence Thomas, 71; Samuel Alito, 70; and John Roberts and Sonia Sotomayor, both 65.

The court will hold nine more arguments by telephone conference this month, including a landmark May 12 case involving President Trump’s financial records.

Tags Clarence Thomas Coronavirus Donald Trump Ruth Bader Ginsburg Samuel Alito Sonia Sotomayor Stephen Breyer Supreme Court

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