WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday that for the first time the nine justices will hear cases argued by teleconference rather than in the courtroom due to the coronavirus pandemic including a closely watched dispute over whether President Donald Trump’s tax and financial records should be disclosed.
The announcement represented the latest way in which the pandemic is reshaping American society, with the court set to embrace teleconferencing like countless other shuttered workplaces that have sought ways to continue functioning.
The court will hear arguments next month by teleconference in 10 cases, with the justices and the lawyers arguing before them all set to participate remotely in light of “public health guidance” in response to the pandemic, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
The court has been historically resistant to embrace new technologies. There still is no video recording of arguments. Audio feeds in the past have not been broadcast live.
“The court anticipates providing a live audio feed of these arguments to news media. Details will be shared as they become available,” Arberg said in a statement.
The court will hear arguments on May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13. It did not announce the dates for the individual cases.
“The court building remains open for official business, but most court personnel are teleworking. The court building remains closed to the public until further notice,” Arberg added.
Trump’s appeals in three separate cases to prevent his financial records from being handed over to Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives committees and a New York prosecutor were due to have been heard on March 31 but were postponed on March 16 when the court delayed a series of cases over concerns about the coronavirus.
Another case focuses on the complex U.S. presidential election system and whether Electoral College electors are free to break their pledges to back the candidate who wins their state’s popular vote. Two others involve teachers at Catholic schools in California testing the extent to which religious organizations are immune from lawsuits filed by employees.
Another centers on a Trump administration bid to allow employers to obtain religious exemptions from a federal requirement under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, that health insurance they provide to employees pays for women’s birth control.
The justices traditionally issue all pending rulings by the end of June before they take their summer recess, but that date potentially could be delayed this year because of the coronavirus disruptions. The cases, however, are expected to be decided before the Nov. 3 presidential election in which Trump is seeking a second four-year term in office.
TRUMP’S RECORDS CASES
The highest-profile case to be heard by teleconference is the one involving Trump’s quest to keep his finances secret.
The Republican president lost in lower courts in the three cases. Two involve Trump’s efforts to stave off congressional subpoenas issued to third parties – his accounting firm Mazars LLP and two banks, Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp – demanding his bank records, tax returns and other material.
The other case involves a criminal investigation into Trump and his family real estate business in which Manhattan’s district attorney is seeking the president’s tax returns.
One major case that was left off the May arguments schedule was Google’s bid to escape Oracle Corp’s multi-billion dollar lawsuit over software copyrights. The court will likely hear the case after its next term begins in October.
The coronavirus has proven to be particularly dangerous in elderly people, especially those with underlying medical issues. Three of the nine justices are over age 70: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (87), Stephen Breyer (81) and Clarence Thomas (71). Ginsburg has experienced a series of recent health issues including treatment in the past two years for pancreatic and lung cancer.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell so far have resisted calls from lawmakers in both parties to allow remote voting in Congress amid the coronavirus crisis. Congress is out until at least April 20, and several lawmakers have said they expect it to stay out of session longer.
Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Will Dunham