Supreme Court to continue hearing oral arguments by telephone next month

The Supreme Court announced Wednesday that when the new term begins in October, the justices will hear oral arguments by phone and make it available to the public in real time, continuing the format it used for arguments last May.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the justices have not heard cases in person since early March.

“In keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19, the Justices and counsel will all participate remotely,” Kathy Arberg, the court’s public information officer, said in a statement.

The court will also provide live audio feed for the October arguments as it did last May.

The new term will launch on October 5 with the backdrop of possibly the most litigious presidential election in recent years playing out on the public scene. Emergency election related petitions are likely to come to the high court before the election and possibly after.

The court has not yet determined plans for the November and December argument sessions. The November session features the lawsuit by GOP-led states, aided by the Trump administration, seeking to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.

Last spring marked the first time the justices heard their cases over the phone and the experiment significantly changed how arguments played out.

Instead of a free-for-all with the justices interrupting each other and peppering advocates with a barrage of questions, the court proceeded in order of seniority with each justice having time to ask a series of questions. For the most part, the experiment won good reviews with advocates expressing satisfaction that they were able to get their answers out without interruption.

In addition, the new system attracted Justice Clarence Thomas, who rarely asks questions in open court but spoke up frequently by telephone.