The Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it will start its new term in October by hearing oral arguments the same way that it did at the end of its previous term: remotely, with the justices and lawyers participating by telephone as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Members of the public will once again be able to listen to oral arguments live, through a feed provided by the court to the media and then made available by the media to the public.
The announcement by the court’s Public Information Office came less than three weeks before the court’s October argument session is scheduled to begin. All of the cases slated for oral argument were originally on the court’s calendar in March or April of this year, but the justices canceled arguments in those months because of the pandemic. The justices then rescheduled some of the March and April cases for May, hearing oral arguments by telephone and providing live audio for the first time, but they pushed the remaining 10 cases back to the fall.
The court indicated that the October arguments will follow “the same format used for the May teleconference arguments,” when the justices took turns asking questions in order of seniority. The format drew mixed reviews in the spring: Some court watchers, most notably veteran reporter Lyle Denniston, were sharply critical, while others believed that the format was more dignified and applauded the increased participation by Justice Clarence Thomas, who rarely asks questions in the more freewheeling setting of arguments held in person. The court made clear that it had not yet made a decision about November, when the justices will hear oral arguments in (among other cases) the challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or December. “The Court will continue to closely monitor public health guidance in determining plans” for sessions later this fall, the court said.
Shortly before the court made its announcement, a group of 50 media organizations and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts calling on the court to provide live audio access during its new term. After the announcement, the Reporters Committee said on Twitter that the decision “is a great step towards greater access and transparency” but continued to urge the court “to provide live audio for the entirety of the term.”
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.