The public has recently gotten a rare taste of hearing Supreme Court oral arguments live, and it appears as though there may be no going back.
The teleconferenced, livestreamed oral arguments from the nation’s high court were largely deemed a success as the two weeks of proceedings came to a close on Friday, according to ABC News.
The court heard arguments in 10 cases via teleconference in recent days, and about half a million listeners tuned in to observe questions and answers live and in real-time, thanks to the unprecedented access granted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“On balance, it was a very successful experiment,” ABC News Supreme Court analyst Kate Shaw said. “Many Americans were able to witness a key aspect of the court’s work for the first time, and that in itself was highly valuable.”
Surprisingly, Justice Clarence Thomas asked 63 questions during the orderly arguments, which featured specific time frames for each justice to ask questions rather than the usual crosstalk and interruptions that tend to characterize this phase of the court’s process.
Thomas has been reported to dislike the chaotic nature of the standard back-and-forth that takes place between lawyers and justices. As such, he had not asked a question during oral arguments since March of 2019, according to Fox News, and in his 14 years on the bench, Thomas only asked a handful of other questions, ABC reported.
“The biggest positive of the sitting was Justice Thomas’ active participation in the arguments,” remarked Joseph Palmore, former assistant solicitor general during the Obama administration and Supreme Court litigator. “He is a skilled and substantive questioner, and his colleagues often picked up on his questions to ask follow-ups.”
Some commentators found flaws with the strictly-timed and regimented format, however, complaining that justices and attorneys were sometimes cut off mid-thought or were prevented from finishing their sentences.
When a Trump lawyer joined one of the cases as a friend of the court, an entire 60-minute questioning cycle was devoted to his participation, which some involved in the case believed was unfair, as ABC noted.
A new normal?
It is not known when the Supreme Court will be able to return to in-person arguments, given the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting safety precautions. Many of the justices are over 65 years of age and belong to the highest-risk age category for serious virus complications from the disease.
Moreover, the next round of oral arguments at the Supreme Court is scheduled for October, when some health experts fear that a second wave of the virus may hit the U.S., according to USA Today.
The success of these livestreamed arguments may lead the court to allow more access to its proceedings in the future, which public opinion strongly supports, according to a survey conducted by The Hill. Like many other adjustments made to make life during the pandemic safer, some court watchers believe that these current accommodations may lead to permanent changes at the high court once life returns to something resembling normal.