High Court To Ring In 2021 With More Remote Oral Arguments

By Hannah Albarazi
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Law360 (November 25, 2020, 7:55 PM EST) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments via phone in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the high court announcing Wednesday that the justices and counsel will continue to participate remotely in oral arguments scheduled for January.

"In keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19, the justices and counsel will all participate remotely," Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg said.

The high court said its building will remain open for official business, but is closed to the public until further notice. The court also said it has not determined whether it will hold arguments remotely in February, but said it would continue to closely monitor public health guidance in making that decision.

The decision to continue the high court's sessions remotely comes as the U.S. experiences a rise in coronavirus cases as cold weather descends on much of the country, forcing people indoors.

The court closed to the public in March and has been holding teleconference hearings since May.

The court will keep the same format that it used for its previous teleconference sessions, which marked the first time in the institution's 230-year history that it allowed live audio broadcasts of its oral arguments.

The justices will hear five distinct cases in its January argument session.

Among the most closely watched of those is Pham v. Chavez, in which the American Civil Liberties Union is asking the high court to reject the Trump administration's position that undocumented immigrants who have reentered the U.S. can be detained indefinitely, even when their deportation is far from certain.

That case is set for argument Jan. 11.

On Jan. 12, the court will hear Uzuegbunam et al. v. Preczewski , a First Amendment case in which former students seek to reverse the Eleventh Circuit's dismissal of their suit against Georgia Gwinnett College. They claim the college stifled their free speech rights to speak on campus about their Christian faith.

The justices will hear AMG Capital Management LLC et al. v. FTC on Jan. 13, in which an asset manager is asking the high court to jettison the Federal Trade Commission's long-claimed power to demand restitution for bad marketplace behavior.

The court will also hear FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project on Jan. 19 in which ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates are challenging the Federal Communications Commission's ownership restrictions that prevent local stations from combining.

That same day, the court will close out its January session by hearing BP PLC et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, a case in which BP, Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and other major oil companies are asking the high court to tackle a central issue in roughly 20 lawsuits seeking to put them on the hook for climate change-related infrastructure damage: Do the cases belong in state or federal court?

The high court says it will continue to provide a live audio feed of the January oral arguments to a media pool, which in turn provides a simultaneous feed for the oral arguments to be livestreamed to the public.

The oral argument audio and a transcript will continue to be posted on the court's website each day.

Rather than the open format of normal hearings, the teleconference format allows the justices only a short, designated time to ask questions of the arguing attorneys, while Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. plays a central role in moderating the proceedings.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the dates that Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg laid in repose. The error has been corrected.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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