Facing protracted disruption from coronavirus, the U.S. Supreme Court will for the first time hear oral arguments by teleconference in May, seeking to resolve a number of urgent cases that include President Donald Trump’s appeal of subpoenas seeking his financial records.
The unprecedented announcement means the justices will hand down several major decisions on politically-charged issues in time for the November presidential election after earlier this month postponing all scheduled arguments indefinitely.
They will rule on whether Trump must surrender his records to congressional and state investigators; whether states can require Electoral College delegates to cast ballots for president based on the popular vote; and whether religious employers can opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.
“In keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19, the Justices and counsel will all participate remotely,” said spokeswoman Kathy Arberg.
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The move to telephone conference proceedings, which lower federal courts have conducted for years, is remarkable for the nation’s highest court that’s become famous for resisting pressure to use technology to make it more accessible. The court said in a statement that it anticipates providing a live audio feed for news media; it’s unclear whether members of the public will be able to listen in.
“Any time the court holds a hearing, whether from the courtroom or from nine different locations, it should be livestreamed for all Americans, not just to favored members of the media,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
“While I’m certainly grateful that the Supreme Court is finally considering using late-20th century technology, it shouldn’t be done in a way that keeps its public exercises hidden from the vast majority of the public,” Roth said in a statement.
Under current Supreme Court policy, audio recordings of oral arguments are only released publicly on a weekly basis. Photography is strictly forbidden in the courtroom.