Supreme Court Postpones Upcoming Oral Arguments Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

March 16, 2020 Updated: March 16, 2020
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The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it is postponing oral arguments scheduled for the March session over concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.

The top court said in a statement that it is postponing upcoming oral arguments set between March 23 and 25, and March 30 and April 1, in response to COVID-19, the disease the virus causes. It added that it will examine options for rescheduling those cases “in due course in light of the developing circumstances,” and did not provide any new dates for the 11 arguments scheduled for March.

Some of the cases that will be affected by the notice include Trump appeals of three subpoena-related lawsuits in a bid to stop the House and a New York investigation from having access to the president’s financial records, cases asking the court to consider how much protection church schools have from government intervention when it comes to choosing teachers for its religion classes, and a copyright case between Google and Oracle about using lines of code central to the Java platform.

This notice comes after the court’s announcement that it would close its building to the public until further notice out of health and safety concerns. The building has been closed since March 12 but remains open for official business.

Despite Monday’s notices, the court made clear that its other businesses will continue, in particular, the justices’ private conferences that are held regularly on Fridays to consider requests such as for cases to be added to the docket. This Friday’s conference will proceed as scheduled, with some of the justices possibly participating remotely by telephone, the court noted.

“The Court’s postponement of argument sessions in light of public health concerns is not unprecedented,” the statement said.

In October 1918, the court postponed arguments in response to the Spanish Flu epidemic. It also shortened its arguments calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to the yellow fever outbreaks, the court said.

Along with the Supreme Court, federal courts around the country are taking a range of similar measures in response to the coronavirus.

Some courts such as the 6th Circuit (pdf) are restricting access to people who have been diagnosed with, or have been in contact with people diagnosed with, COVID-19, have been asked to self-quarantine, or have traveled to Italy, Iran, South Korea, or China in the last 14 days. Along with the access restrictions, some courts are also requiring screening of detainees prior to court appearances (pdf). Detainees with a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or above would not be allowed to enter the courthouse.

Meanwhile, some courts have postponed non-essential civil and criminal matters set for hearing in the next few weeks (pdf), while others have canceled their en banc hearings and postponed oral arguments.

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