The Volokh Conspiracy

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SCOTUS Will Hold In-Person Arguments, But Will Not Be Open to the Public

The Court will also provide a live audio feed from the Court.


The Supreme Court is making progress towards a return to normalcy. This Term, the Justices will hear arguments in person. But attendance will be limited to the Justices, "essential Court personnel, counsel in the scheduled cases, and journalists with full-time press credentials." The sessions will not be open to the public. But on the plus side, the "Court anticipates providing a live audio feed." And soon enough, Justice Barrett will make her first public appearance on the bench.

This announcement is significant for several reasons.

First, since the Delta outbreak, I worried the Court would continue hearing arguments over the phone. I am so glad they have abandoned that practice. It was stilted and forced. All of the other branches of government have managed to gather during the pandemic. The Judiciary should as well..

Second, the Justices have now set a new precedent: it is possible to live-stream audio from inside the Supreme Court. For the past two terms, the Court simply provided C-SPAN with access to a conference call bridge. But now, the Court will broadcast audio from within the Court. There are many microphones and other systems that will now have to cooperate with an outside source. In theory, at least, the Court could continue live-streaming arguments even when the pandemic subsides. The Justices can always use a tape delay.

Third, the Court was willing to sacrifice public access to ensure in-person arguments. I think this tradeoff is well worth it. Given limited attendance, the admitted people can space out in the giant courtroom. Presumably, everyone will be wearing a mask, other than the Justices. I doubt the Court installed plexiglass dividers along the bench.

Before the Court does resume normal operations, I hope they can revamp their admission processes. There are better ways to allow lawyers and the public into the building. I offered several suggestions here.