U.S. Supreme Court postpones oral arguments as coronavirus pandemic continues

The U.S. Supreme Court postponed March oral arguments indefinitely.  (Source: Gray DC)
The U.S. Supreme Court postponed March oral arguments indefinitely. (Source: Gray DC)(GRAYDC)
Published: Mar. 31, 2020 at 1:11 PM EDT
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The U.S. Supreme Court postponed oral arguments in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. Centuries of traditions are put on hold at the highest court in the land.

“They all shake each other’s hand before they go into the courtroom before they hear a case argued,” said Clare Cushman at the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Two weeks of March oral arguments are now in limbo because of the widespread coronavirus. Cushman said this is not a first for the court. The last time this happened—the yellow fever outbreaks in 1790s and the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. But Cushman said the coronavirus epidemic has the potential to be even more of a disruption.

“None of these episodes has caused the court to have to adjourn for the entire term,” she said.

Cushman says the Court may have to hold off arguments until the fall if the crisis continues.

High-profile cases on the March docket pushed off include if President Trump can shield his financial records from the public and questions surrounding the statute of limitations for sexual assault in the military.

Col. Don Christensen with advocacy group Protect Our Defenders said there is a lot at stake in delaying the military case.

“There are a number of rapists who are walking free during this delay. That’s bad,” said Christensen.

Despite his concerns, Christensen said the High Court made the right decision since many of the justices are older and susceptible to the highly contagious coronavirus.

Harvard constitutional law professor Mark Tushnet agrees.

He says the Court could allow remote oral arguments, but that would certainly come with some challenges.

“Concerns about hacking into their internal discussions, which they always regard as extremely secret,” said Tushnet.

For anyone wondering what this means for cases already heard, Tushnet said they will not be impacted. The justices can continue to deliberate and release opinions remotely.

The coronavirus epidemic isn’t just impacting the highest court. Trials have been postponed and impacted in lower courts across the country.

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