Supreme Court to look and sound like it never has before

Instead of the pump and circumstances of the highest court in the country, where lawyers are still presented with pens, TV cameras are not allowed, and only those lucky enough to enter the building can hear the case live, Monday morning will conduct its business over a simple fiber optic cable.

"I never thought the day would come high on my list of concerns before arguing how to keep my dog ​​from aborting," veteran attorney Lisa Blatt, who will argue the first case, told CNN.

The experiment begins at 10:00 on Monday morning and plays in six arguments over two weeks. The court will work on a couple of sub-radar cases to start, but will build on some of the key issues in the term – including the duel over President Donald Trump's financial and tax records.

Everyone takes their turn

Chief of Staff John Roberts often notes that the court's unofficial mascot is the bronzed turtle that can be found at the base of the court's outer lamp posts. The boss likes to say that the court moves gradually and intentionally, just like its mascot.

But Covid-19 has asked for a quick change.

While on a regular argument day, the judges will sweep in to take a seat before a crimson curtain, on Monday, the phone line will simply open.


But it will not be free for everyone. Or is not meant to be, at least. At the coronavirus age, the court has adjusted how interrogation will play out. Instead of letting the judges jump in and ask their questions when they feel cramped, Mondays on Monday will continue with the questions in the order of seniority, with the top boss first.

It may take some getting used to these nine righteousnesses. Usually, oral arguments contain a so-called hot bench. Lawyers are allowed to take two minutes of uninterrupted time to do the case, and then the judges jump in. Sometimes the questions come with such rapid fire that the boss has to step in to play traffic manager.

Fairness Ruth Bader Ginsburg often starts, sometimes bringing up an annoying procedural problem that can derail a case.
Justice Stephen Breyer, on the other hand are known for long, sometimes meandering, hypothetical questions.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor often interrupts lawyers with her trademark "I'm sorry …", while Justice Elena Kagan, rarely at first, can bounce with a streamlined inquiry that can pierce the heart of a case.

It's like that rarely does justice Clarence Thomas ask a question that when he does, a mysterious silence takes over the courtroom.
Last week, the court specified in a statement that after each justice is completed, the next justice will speak. After questioning, if time permits, other questions may be allowed.

In an email to attorneys, the court asked to keep things short.

Be kind and responsive to every question so that each justice will have sufficient time for questioning, the email states. "If there is time left when all the justice has had the opportunity to question counsel, it may be further questioning. Arguing counsel is urged to keep their own time for argument so that they can independently decide how much time remains."

Lacks non-verbal clues


The system may work to avoid confusion, but it will change the dynamics of the court – and the way cases are argued.


Paul Clement, who will make his 102nd argument in court later this week, said the new lawsuit will mark the first time he will have to worry about being wrong on mute. On the plus side, he told CNN, he will not have to consider traffic tomorrow with oral arguments.

As an argument, he said, "the biggest challenge will be the absence of visual clues that you can get when you see the justice on the bench during oral argument."

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He noted that, by oral argument, a lawyer can often pick up whether justice is satisfied with an answer by looking them straight in the eye.

"You can also see if other justices are handling the argument and interacting with each other, especially when it's not your turn on the podium," Clement added.

Blatt expressed a similar feeling.

"I really want to miss seeing their faces, but I would imagine their faces and where they sit when I hear them speak," she said.

Some traditions will not disappear

One of the first things lawyers hear when their case is called is the Marshal of the Court, Pamela Talkin, who will "cry" the court and beat the mayor.

"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!", Says Talkin in part. "All persons doing business for the Honorable Supreme Court in the United States are exhorted to come near and give attention, because the court is now sitting. God saves the United States and this honorable court."

There is a moment in the case that often serves to mark the court's respect for history and tradition just before it sets a new precedent.

Over the phone, however, the "cry" is expected to change.

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At the Department of Justice, lawyers have decided to meet – under appropriate social distance guidelines – in the attorney's office. They want to follow the tradition of wearing tomorrow clothes even if they are not in court.

When it comes to attorney Eric Rassbach, he also said he wants to wear a suit. "After all, this is an oral argument," he said.

He is less intimidated by missing the non-verbal communication in court. "Telephone hearings are happening all the time in the district court and justice is still being done," he said.

But he decided he wanted to leave home and travel to a nearby law firm.

Rassbach joked: "I'm not sure how much respect my four-year-old would have for solemnizing Supreme Court hearings."

Live sound and great stuff

For the audience, the change offers a unique opportunity to listen live.

Before big cases, the crowd is usually left to camp – sometimes for several days – and replace containers of coffee and stale donuts to get a coveted seat inside the courtroom. Now, instead of having to wait, they can hear the real-time justice.

By Tuesday, May 12, perhaps after early mistakes have been made, the court will tackle two of the most important cases in the course of Trump's bid to protect his Congressional records and a New York prosecutor. The next day, the court will put the spotlight on the Electoral College and so-called faithless voters.

Then the experiment will be over, and the audience may also have learned that oral arguments are sometimes jammed with legalese that confuses even experienced court guards.

For the justice, oral arguments are important, but they rely much more on the written briefs in the case as well as the friend of the court filing from interested parties.

But no matter what, justice will have set a new precedent.

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Back in 1793, according to Clare Cushman of the Supreme Court Historical Society, the jurors fled by reports of an outbreak of yellow fever, from Philadelphia, where the court convened a meeting. In 1918, in the midst of the Spanish flu, the judges again postponed arguments.

"We have been dismissed because of the epidemic because it was not thought proper to require lawyers to come, often across the continent to a crowded and infected place," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in a letter, according to Cushman.

Now, staring Monday morning, the judges – most of whom are over 60 – won't have to worry about infection. Just stay on the line. And don't forget to mute when it's not your turn to talk.

After all, as the court said in an email to attorneys: "We encourage attorneys to subdue themselves even until it's their turn to argue."

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