Legal scholars would have never guessed, even two months ago, that the Supreme Court would allow cases to be heard via telephone. For the duration of the existence of recording technology, no Chief Justice has allowed live broadcasts of court proceedings. The court has never heard cases over telephone, the internet, or any telecom technology.
That all changed Monday, when the highest court in the US heard its first ever arguments via telephone. This move came amidst widespread lockdowns over the novel coronavirus. The US’s struggles with the virus are no secret, as America has become the epicenter of the virus. Most of the Justices are well within the most vulnerable age range, with the majority of them over 65. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 87.
Extraordinary Times, Extraordinary Measures
As such, it’s not surprising that they made the call to not have physical sessions during the pandemic. However, what is surprising is that the court is allowing the public to listen in to the arguments before the Justices. This is the first time in history that the public has heard Supreme Court proceedings live.
Typically, reporters have to arrive to the courthouse well ahead of arguments in order to secure a coveted spot as a spectator in the courtroom. Then, they are typically not allowed to bring recording equipment. Instead, reporters have to rely on old-fashioned methods, writing down what is said in the court, in order to provide publications with breaking news.
However, with the arguments being streamed online, every publication can update news on the cases as it happens. Legal experts can listen in while the arguments are read. This is truly a gift for those with a passion for law.
Will This Be the New Norm?
It’s unclear whether the court will continue to offer live recordings of the arguments after this session. Their next session, in October, could return to the normal proceedings. However, there is a possibility that COVID could still be a concern through the end of the year. If that is the case, could a more transparent Supreme Court become the norm?
Some lawyers have worried that the telecommunication arguments will be at a disadvantage due to technology. There are concerns that the back-and-forth dynamic of a physical courtroom, and the presence of the orators, will be lost over the phone. However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. As for how the court proceeds after this session, that’s anyone’s guess.