The Supreme Court Phones-In Oral Arguments for the First Time Ever Due to Wuhan Virus

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The US Supreme Court held oral arguments by phone for the first time in its history today due to the Wuhan virus pandemic. Perhaps even more remarkable was that they were also live-streamed for all to hear for the first time ever.


The court heard the case U.S. Patent and Trademark Office v. which asks the Court to decide if a generic word can be trademarked if it includes “.com” after it.

For people who don’t listen to the Supreme Court oral arguments, which are issued on a weekly basis during the term, it was a new experience.

For some it was the first time they’d ever heard the justices’ voices. Others noted that Justice Clarence Thomas asking questions during oral arguments was a rarity, which it is, but Roberts called on each justice to ask questions in order of seniority.

And this woman wanted everyone to notice there were women advocates and female justices because, it’s not about the case, it’s about the gender of the person arguing the case that’s important … apparently.

For those of us who regularly listen to the oral arguments, it was a pleasure to hear that Chief Justice John Roberts held justices to a three-minute time limit while asking questions. Justice Sotomayor tends to drone on lustily and, instead of asking incisive questions of the advocates as the other justices do, sonorously argues one side of the case and constantly interrupts people with whom she obviously disagrees with her sing-song “Excuuuuuse me…”


Some were unaware that Chief Justice Roberts wraps up each side when they run out of time with a “Thank You, Counsel.”

Others believed this was a reason to live stream arguments all the time so people could live-tweet the case. Scotusblog considered the idea of President Trump chiming in on Twitter in real-time:

Court-watchers are full of speculation about how the new format will pan out. At ABC News, Devin Dwyer reports that the setup provides “the first opportunity for a sitting American president — one who is party to cases before the court — to tune in live and potentially respond via Twitter.”

On social media you could see how this kind of attention in real-time could play out. Consider an exchange between one of the lawyers and Justice Gorsuch trying to show him as not having done his homework on her case.


Knowing she was arguing in real-time to her allies and friends it’s possible the less formal atmosphere on the phone added to her disrespect and intemperance, which is an argument for not live-streaming the arguments.

Will it “please the court,” as all advocates say to the court when they begin presenting their case? The phoned-in and live-streamed arguments will continue until May 13th.


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