A police officer walks in front of the U.S. Supreme Court April 6, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images
The Supreme Court said Monday that it will hear some oral arguments virtually in May after closing its building to the public and postponing cases as a precaution against the spreading coronavirus.
The move is a first for the high court as it wrestles to carry on with its business despite the strain imposed by the raging public health crisis.
Among the disputes that will be heard via teleconference are three high-profile cases over whether President Donald Trump may keep his financial records, including his tax returns, shielded from state and congressional investigators.
The justices will also hear key Electoral College cases, over whether Electoral College voters may differ from their state’s popular vote, in the new format, the top court said.
In all, the court scheduled 10 arguments to be heard over the first two weeks of May, according to the release issued Monday. It has not yet assigned dates for each of the cases to be argued.
“In keeping with public health guidance in response to Covid-19, the Justices and counsel will all participate remotely,” the release said. “The Court anticipates providing a live audio feed of these arguments to news media. Details will be shared as they become available.”
Decisions in major cases are typically released in June, at the end of the court’s regular session, but it was not immediately clear if that schedule will be impacted.
The court first postponed arguments in response to Covid-19 last month, saying it had previously done so during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and the yellow fever outbreaks of the 18th century. It later expanded the postponed cases to include its entire April session.
Despite the precautions, the court has continued to announce decisions in previously argued cases, and just last week issued an order tightening the deadline for absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s April 7 elections.
The justices are currently weighing an appeal from abortion providers in Texas over an order signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last month effectively banning the procedure as part of an effort to conserve emergency medical supplies.
The unprecedented move from the Supreme Court comes as the nation remains largely under lockdown in order to slow the spread of Covid-19, which has sickened more than half a million people in the U.S. and killed more than 22,000 in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Some of the justices themselves are particularly susceptible to coronavirus, which public health officials warn disproportionately affects those who are older or have underlying medical conditions. Six of the justices are 65-years-old or older, and its eldest member — 87-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — has suffered from multiple bouts of cancer.