Justice can't be muted? Flushing sound heard on Supreme Court conference call

It's not just office co-workers who have difficulty finding the mute button.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Allan Smith

A Supreme Court argument showed Wednesday that it's not just office co-workers who sometimes have difficulty finding the "mute" button during a conference call.

Amid oral arguments in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, an unexpected sound projected clearly across the court's live audio stream: Someone flushed a toilet.

The distinctive flush came as Roman Martinez, the attorney representing the American Association of Political Consultants, was presenting his case before the court. The high court did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for additional information on just what exactly happened on the call.

The flush came just days after the Supreme Court began conducting oral arguments via phone amid the COVID-19 outbreak, with the audio of the sessions available live for the first time as well.

In question during the Wednesday case was the constitutionality of an exception to the recently passed federal ban on robocalls to cellphones that allows the government to use robocalls to collect debt. The group of consultants is arguing that exception is illegal and therefore, the whole ban should be struck down.

Responding to the flushing sound, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted: "To be clear, the @FCC does not construe the flushing of a toilet immediately after counsel said "what the FCC has said" to reflect a substantive judgment of the Supreme Court, or of any Justice thereof, regarding an agency determination."

As is the case with any new technology, there have been a few technical hiccups as the court get accustomed to working remotely.

Earlier on Wednesday, Justice Stephen Breyer was briefly cut off of the call. He said it was because his phone began to ring.

"I don't think it was a robocall," he joked. "We did get it straightened out."

On Tuesday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor ran into trouble with the mute button.

"Justice Sotomayor?" Chief Justice John Roberts said during arguments Tuesday, alerting the justice she was next up for questioning. But Sotomayor was not heard from. Roberts asked for her again.

"I am sorry, Chief. Did it again," she said, apparently failing to unmute herself after being called upon.