When the justices return to the bench next week to begin the 2022-23 term, members of the public will be able to attend oral arguments for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. The court also announced on Wednesday that it will continue to provide a live audio feed of oral arguments, a practice that it began during the pandemic.
Masking will be optional at oral arguments, the court said in a press release, and the court’s building will otherwise remain closed to the public.
Until May 2020, the Supreme Court had generally made oral argument audio available only at the end of the week following the arguments. The court occasionally made audio available on the same day as arguments in major cases, but even that departure from the court’s normal procedures was relatively rare.
When the justices heard oral arguments by telephone in May 2020, the court began to provide live audio of each argument, and it continued the practice throughout the 2020-21 term. The justices returned to the courtroom in October 2021, but attendance at arguments in the 2021-22 term was limited to a small group of people that included the arguing lawyers, reporters, court staff, and law clerks. The court continued to provide live audio of oral arguments for that term as well.
It was widely expected that the court would reopen to the public in some capacity for the new term, but the fate of the court’s live audio feed remained unknown until Wednesday’s announcement. With the exception of an errant toilet flush during a May 2020 argument, the justices’ use of live audio appeared to go smoothly. To the extent that some justices may have harbored concerns about continuing live audio with a larger in-person audience, particularly in the wake of the court’s high-profile decision in June overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Wednesday’s press release suggests that the court was able to overcome those fears.
The press release did not, however, address whether the justices would take the bench to announce opinions – a practice that has been on hold since the start of the pandemic – or whether, if they do, the court will provide a live audio feed of those announcements.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.