Calling for Justice: SCOTUS Takes Arguments By Phone

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the nation's highest court to take unprecedented action in order to keep working. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments via telephone conference call. The move comes as the Supreme Court building has been closed to the public since March 12 due to Covid-19, with justices and their staff continuing to work from home. The court's teleconference docket includes several important cases over the next few weeks, covering topics from Obamacare to religious liberty to President Trump's tax returns.

While conference calls and virtual meetings have become commonplace for many businesses, especially in the last two months, this is uncharted territory for the Supreme Court. "This is the biggest news to come out of the Supreme Court probably in 100 years," laughs Houston attorney Michele Maples. "The Supreme Court is not exactly known for pursuing innovation or technological advances when it comes to their courtroom hearings."

Maples believes this makes sense due to the advanced age of the majority of the high court justices. "Look, you've got two justices who are in their 80s, you've got three in their 70s, and then you've got two in their 60s," she says. "I think the main reason for going to basically a conference call to hold these hearings, is to protect the health and safety of our elderly justices."

Whether or not this will lead to a new normal of virtual hearings or a more technologically advanced court in the future remains to be seen. "Just like with state courts and federal courts at the state level as well, I believe that once all of this has passed they will go back to in-person hearings," says Maples. "However, what I do think might change is perhaps there will be live streaming of hearings, which you don't have now."

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