Supreme embarrassment: The flush heard around the country

The Supreme Court was making history Wednesday afternoon, and was arguing over the phone because of Covid-19, when suddenly it was the clear sound of a toilet flush.

Across the country, audiences who have never been able to listen in real time to oral arguments before this week were held externally, not only addressing deep issues related to the First Amendment and robocalls, but also to someone's apparent bathroom break.

The erroneous flush of an unknown source comes when lawyers, lawyers and the country deal with the new realities – and dangers – of operating over teleconferencing lines.

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The case in question involved the Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits unwanted calls to mobile phones using an automated system. Challengers say that a provision violates the Constitution. Attorney Roman Martinez, who represented political groups that challenged the law, pressed his point when the insulting flush happened.

Martinez did not seem excited or noticed the interruption in public.

The Supreme Court has provided guidance to attorneys who will engage in oral arguments over the telephone, noting that once a lawyer's argument is completed, his or her line will be muted and "the line for the next attorney will not be muted."

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The court has provided a live audio feed of the arguments of Fox News (the Network Pool Chair), the Associated Press and C-SPAN. CNN.com has every livestream increased.

Robocall-dispute

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The Robocall Act was passed in 1991 as a response to consumers fighting for intrusive phone calls. But the ban does not cover all conversations. One exemption, added by Congress in 2015, applies to debt collection claims related to the federal government. The provision was added, according to the government, so that it could ensure that debt owed by the United States could be recovered as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Political organizations challenging the statute say the exemption was unconstitutional and that the entire law must fall. The groups seek to call voters on their mobile phones using automatic dialing systems to solicit donations or send messages on political issues.

A federal appeals court last year believed the state debt waiver violated the First Amendment because it banned some content-based conversations but allowed others. However, the court said the provision could be excluded and the rest of the law could remain in effect.

Calls to the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice were not immediately returned.

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CORRECTION: This story has been updated to spell out Roman Martinez's first name correctly.

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