Breaking News
Investing Pro 0
New Year’s SALE: Up to 40% OFF InvestingPro+ CLAIM OFFER

Phoning it in: Pandemic forces Supreme Court to hear cases in a new way

Stock Markets May 03, 2020 06:25AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
© Reuters. The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington
Add to/Remove from Watchlist
Add to Watchlist
Add Position

Position added successfully to:

Please name your holdings portfolio

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court are typically a formal affair, dictated by adherence to tradition by an institution historically resistant to altering its ways. Come Monday, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, all that changes.

In a first, the nine justices are set to participate in arguments in 10 cases - each scheduled for an hour - this week and next week conducted remotely by teleconference rather than in-person to combat the spread of the pathogen. In another break with tradition, the court will provide a live audio feed of the arguments to the news media.

The changes reflect the new reality of working from home during the pandemic. The new format means than many formalities will be set aside. Some of the lawyers who will argue the cases have said they plan on wearing comfortable clothing - jeans and T-shirts - and will address the justices from kitchens and spare bedrooms, not from behind a lectern in the courtroom.

The cases include one of the biggest disputes of the court's current term - whether President Donald Trump, arguing for expansive presidential powers, can keep his financial records including tax returns secret. Three cases will be argued on the subject on May 12, two involving congressional subpoenas to third parties for his records and one involving a subpoena by a local prosecutor in New York City in a criminal investigation into Trump and his family real estate business.

Jay Sekulow, a Trump personal lawyer who is arguing one of the financial records cases, said the dynamic will be quite a contrast to the dozen Supreme Court cases he has argued previously.

"The difference here is, because we have a situation where we're doing this over the phone, we're trying to replicate that kind of feeling, because it's different. Tone is different. Pausing is different. Listening is different," Sekulow said.

Arguments often are rough and tumble affairs - intellectually speaking - in the grand marble-columned courtroom, with the justices interjecting their comments at any time and sometimes talking over one another. To avoid chaos, the court has tweaked the format for the teleconference arguments so justices will take turn asking questions in order of seniority.

Justice Clarence Thomas is the court's longest-serving member, though he typically refrains from asking questions during arguments. The next most senior justice is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a frequent questioner.

The new process will present a challenge including trying to cram all of the justices' questions into an hour, said Ian Gershengorn, another experienced Supreme Court lawyer, who will be arguing a case on May 11 from his home in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Maryland.

"It will put a premium on concise questions and concise answers," Gershengorn said.

Gershengorn is representing Jimcy McGirt, a member of a Native American tribe challenging his conviction on charges of rape, molestation and sodomy of a 4-year-old girl. The ruling could have broad ramifications for tribal authority in Oklahoma.

Gershengorn will be interacting with the justices sight unseen. So, despite the seriousness of the case, he said he plans to wear casual clothes - jeans and a T-shirt - instead of his usual formal suit.

Riyaz Kanji, a lawyer representing the Muscogee (Creek) Nation tribe in the same case, said he plans to address the justices sitting from his kitchen table in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


The first case being heard on Monday involves a bid by a federal agency to prevent the popular hotel reservation website, a unit of Booking Holdings (NASDAQ:BKNG) Inc, from trademarking the site's name.

The company, along with the rest of the travel industry, has been clobbered by the pandemic, which has caused tourism and business travel to evaporate worldwide. Adding to its troubles, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office contends in the case that the name is too generic to deserve legal protection.

The Supreme Court building has been closed to the public since March 13 due to the pandemic. The justices have met only via teleconference, and have issued rulings only online.

The coronavirus has proven to be particularly dangerous in elderly people, especially those with underlying medical issues. Three of the nine justices are over age 70: Ginsburg (87), Stephen Breyer (81) and Thomas (71).

The court is notoriously averse to change, including adopting new technology. The justices in the past have rebuffed news media requests for live audio and video of arguments. The court has not stated whether it will continue to allow a live audio feed in the future when cases again are argued in-person.

(For a graphic on major cases before the Supreme Court, click

Phoning it in: Pandemic forces Supreme Court to hear cases in a new way

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.
  • Any comment you publish, together with your profile, will be public on and may be indexed and available through third party search engines, such as Google.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email