Supreme Court Affected By Coronavirus, The 2020 Election Hangs In The Balance

Coronavirus has now affected the Supreme Court in ways that Americans could not have ever imagined.

The Supreme Court had oral arguments for the Spring session scheduled for April but now they have had to reschedule and the results could change the court forever.

“In keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19, the Court will postpone the oral arguments currently scheduled for the April session (April 20-22 and April 27-29),” the Court said in a press release.

“The Court will consider rescheduling some cases from the March and April sessions before the end of the Term, if circumstances permit in light of public health and safety guidance at that time.

“The Court will consider a range of scheduling options and other alternatives if arguments cannot be held in the Courtroom before the end of the Term.

“The Court will continue to proceed with the resolution of all cases argued this Term. Opinions will be posted on the Court’s Website. The Court is continuing to hold its regularly scheduled conferences and issuing Order Lists.

“The Court Building remains open for official business, but most Court personnel are teleworking. The Court remains closed to the public until further notice,” it said.

But the fact is that this could end the Court’s session for the entire year and new cases could have to wait for the next session.

The decision to postpone, and the pandemic itself, places the Court in a position to question the technology it uses, Quartz reporter Ephrat Livni said.

Yesterday, the court’s Public Information Office stated that this month’s hearings will again be delayed. They may be rescheduled if public health concerns soon abate. But the justices are also considering “other alternatives if arguments cannot be held in the courtroom before the end of the term.” 

This admission is a big deal, given the high court has long resisted technology even while deciding comically postmodern cases.

Yesterday’s announcement (see below) is the second of its kind in four (very long) weeks. This means important matters with consequences for the 2020 presidential elections— cases about Donald Trump’s financial records and the duties of electoral college voters, for example—might be pending for some time.

That’s problematic because oral argument is “jurisprudential theater” with serious political implications, says appellate advocate Timothy S. Bishop, who clerked for late justice William Brennan and has argued seven times before the high tribunal, including the 2018 case of the endangered dusky gopher frog versus Big Timber. The partner at the law firm Mayer Brown in Chicago tells Quartz that these hearings are “important to the court’s legitimacy.”

He, and others, go on to argue that the business of the Court can be done remotely in something akin to a Skype or FaceTime call.

The Court does still rely on old technology like writing ion notebooks and not allowing cameras in the court.

“This is getting ridiculous. If the Supreme Court can conduct its weekly conferences remotely, which it has been doing for weeks, it can conduct its remaining arguments remotely and allow the public to listen in,” Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, said,

“The country has adapted to working over Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts, and dozens of state and federal courts are keeping the wheels of justice moving via teleconferencing in spite of the pandemic,” he said.

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