Court Battles

Supreme Court returning to courtroom for arguments

The Supreme Court is seen at sunset on June 7
Greg Nash

The justices will return to the Supreme Court next month to hold their first in-person oral arguments since the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Courtroom access will be limited to the justices, court personnel, legal counsel and journalists during upcoming arguments, though the court is expected to provide live audio of the proceedings.

The court building remains closed to the public indefinitely due to ongoing health concerns, a court spokesperson said.

The new term next month will mark the first time the justices gather for in-person arguments since March 2020, when pandemic-era precautions first took hold.

The court went on to adopt a remote-work format, conducting arguments by telephone with the justices posing questions to legal counsel in order of seniority.

The use of teleconferences was seen as a dramatic step for a court that had traditionally been wary of integrating new technology into its operations.

Its rigid question-and-answer format garnered mixed reviews, with some court watchers complaining that the formula inhibited the spontaneous back-and-forth that often typifies oral arguments.

Others saw its benefits, like creating a more favorable forum of exchange for Justice Clarence Thomas, who was famously reticent during freewheeling in-person arguments but was as outwardly engaged as the other justices during arguments by phone.

The court begins its new term on Oct. 4 with arguments in a water-rights dispute between Mississippi and Tennessee.

A spokesperson said on Wednesday that the court will hold the limited access in-person hearings for arguments scheduled for October, November and December but did not provide details for the term’s remaining arguments, which are expected to run from January through April. The justices typically issue a term’s opinions by the end of June.

Tags Clarence Thomas Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic Supreme Court
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