WASHINGTON – The coronavirus pandemic is forcing big changes at the tradition-bound Supreme Court.
Beginning this coming week, the justices will hear arguments by telephone for the first time since Alexander Graham Bell patented his invention in 1876.
Audio of the arguments will be broadcast live by the news media, another first. This will be just the second time that the justices will meet outside the court since the Supreme Court building opened in 1935. (The discovery of anthrax in a court mailroom in 2001 forced a temporary relocation to another federal courthouse less than a mile away.)
The first argument is scheduled for Monday, and the court will hear a total of 10 cases over six days. Among the cases to be argued: President Donald Trump’s bid to keep certain financial records private and whether presidential electors are required to cast their Electoral College ballots for the candidate who won their state.
A few things to know before the arguments are heard:
Supreme Court arguments are generally freewheeling affairs, with rapid-fire questions coming at advocates. That often means the justices trip over each other trying to get in a question. This time, the justices will ask questions in order of seniority, with Chief Justice John Roberts going first and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the last to speak.
Doing things in seniority order is routine at the court. The justices sit according to the length of their court service both at the bench and when they meet for private conferences, where discussion also proceeds in seniority order. One justice you probably won't hear much from is Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving member of the court. He almost never asks questions, and he's said he thinks his colleagues interrupt the lawyers before them too much.