Chief Justice Roberts applauds ‘unsung heroes in the judicial branch’ for adapting amid COVID-19

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts ended a profoundly disruptive year by applauding the “unsung heroes” in the court system who continued to administer justice despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“None of this would be achievable without unsung heroes in the judicial branch and throughout government,” Roberts announced in a brief annual report.

Kitchen tables and drive-thrus

In a year that saw millions of people lose their jobs and countless businesses destroyed, Roberts focused on the positive.

The chief justice lauded courts nationwide for adapting after COVID-19 forced courtrooms to shutter in March, leaving many judges to conduct their business remotely, even from their “kitchen tables,” Roberts noted, according to USA Today.

“By April, judges around the country were guiding critical court functions from their home offices — or their kitchen tables,” the chief justice said in his year-end report. “Hearings of all sorts went virtual. Judges quickly (or at least eventually) learned to use a wide range of available audio and video conferencing tools.”

It was the most serious logistical challenge facing the judiciary since the 1918 Spanish Flu, which forced the Supreme Court to cancel its sessions, Roberts noted. This year, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over the phone for the first time, according to NBC News.

Roberts also mentioned that Michigan and Florida conducted drive-thru naturalization ceremonies, while other courtrooms took steps to allow for social distancing and “installed plexiglass in key spaces to physically separate participants,” he wrote.

No mention of election

Despite Roberts’ praise, many trials around the country have ground to a halt and backlogs have built up, according to reports, imperiling the rights of many defendants and plaintiffs.

In New York City, for example, there were just nine criminal trials in 2020, down from 800 the year before, The New York Times reported. Roberts’ report notes that criminal defendant filings dropped by 20% last year.

But “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 said.

The report conspicuously sidesteps any mention of President Donald Trump’s election challenges, which the Supreme Court has twice refused to consider, as USA Today notes.

“This year, more than ever, I am privileged and honored to thank all of the judges, court staff, and other judicial branch personnel throughout the nation for their outstanding service,” Roberts concluded.

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