Chief Justice John Roberts Praises Work of Federal Courts During Pandemic

January 1, 2021 Updated: January 1, 2021

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts praised courts across the country in an annual end of year report for how they responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roberts noted that the nation’s highest court in March asked employees to work remotely, and moved most filings and opinions online. In May, the Supreme Court held oral arguments by teleconference for the first time, an arrangement that remains in place at least through January.

“Other appellate courts around the country have responded with similar considered flexibility,” he wrote in the 7-page report. Trial courts, meanwhile, have worked to carry out their vital functions while following the best available health guidance amid the pandemic, he added. Hearings went virtual; video and audio conferencing became normal practice. Courtrooms that needed to be in session did so in reconfigured spaces.

“All this is a credit to judges and court staff, but also to the citizens who serve as jurors. Judges from around the country report that, where jury trials have resumed, responses to jury summonses have met or exceeded their high hopes for the public’s willingness to participate in the legal system during these very challenging times,” Roberts wrote.

The way the courts responded wouldn’t have been possible without “unsung heroes,” both in the judicial branch and throughout the government, he added, conveying his condolences to judiciary employees who have “contended with illness and loss” over the course of the year.

Roberts, 65, has spent 15 years on the court, the entire time as the chief judge. He was nominated by President George W. Bush.

Roberts drew ire from some conservatives in 2020. They accuse him of drifting leftwards over the years as he increasingly sides with the bloc of justices nominated by Democratic presidents.

Roberts oversees an altered court, with six of the justices nominated by Republican commanders-in-chiefs—three by President Donald Trump alone.

Trump’s most recent nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was approved by the Senate in November. She filled the seat held for decades by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a President Bill Clinton nominee.

The report came as millions of Americans receive the newly authorized COVID-19 vaccines. At least some justices have received injections, a spokeswoman told The Associated Press. They were provided with the doses under a directive from Trump, which directed injections to key government figures.

Trump, who recovered from the disease in October, has not been vaccinated, but Vice President Mike Pence has. Other government officials getting the shot include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

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