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US Supreme Court

Distance Sessions Reveal Even Supreme Court Has Technical Difficulties

For the first time in history, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments via teleconference. This is unprecedented, and is due directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some parts of the country are reopening, medical experts have advised people at risk of the disease to stay home. Nearly all of the Justices of the Supreme Court are over 65, making them particularly vulnerable to the respiratory illness.

As such, the court took the extraordinary step of moving to a digital session. After all, the Supreme Court couldn’t very well skip a session. However, it would have been unsafe to hold a physical session of the court.

This has also led to the odd new reality of the public being able to listen to Supreme Court proceedings live.

Live Proceedings Include Hilarious Gaffs

As with any live proceedings, however, the Supreme Court’s live sessions haven’t been without a few gaffs. Most notably, one came during Wednesday in the sound of a flushing toilet. As attorney Roman Martinez made his arguments, the sound could be heard clearly over the telecom conference.

Martinez, who represents the American Association of Political Consultants, is arguing to have a ban on robocalling struck down. The AAPC’s stance is that the ban is unlawful, as it allows for an exception. The government can use robocalling to collect debts, despite the ban prohibiting private companies from doing the same thing.

This case has garnered widespread attention, as the practice of automated phone calls annoys pretty much every person on the planet. The outright banning of the practice was widely regarded as a positive. However, the AAPC sees the government’s actions as unlawful.

Internet Reacts to Flush

The timing of the flush was noted by many online as humorous. The entire episode made the normally somber and stoic Supreme Court feel significantly lighter. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted “To be clear, the @FCC does not construe the flushing of a toilet immediately after counsel said “what the FCC has said” to reflect a substantive judgment of the Supreme Court, or of any Justice thereof, regarding an agency determination.”

This comes amid other notable technological gaffs during the telecom proceedings. Earlier in the week, Justice Stephen Breyer was abruptly dropped from the call. He clarified it was because his phone started ringing. He humorously added, “I don’t think it was a robocall.”

Later, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was called on by Chief Justice John Roberts but was not heard from. Moments later, her voice was heard, clarifying “I am sorry, Chief. Did it again.” The Justice had apparently forgotten to unmute herself before speaking.