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Supreme Court to resume oral arguments by telephone next month

The justices started hearing arguments by conference call last spring, with the audio made available live to the public.
Image: The U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington on Nov. 13, 2018.Al Drago / Reuters file

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin its new term in October by hearing oral arguments on telephone conference calls, a court official said Wednesday, resuming a practice it began earlier this year.

The court building will remain closed to the public, as it has been since March due to the pandemic. Six of the justices are 65 or older, considered to be at higher risk for bad outcomes if they contract the coronavirus. That includes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, who is being treated for cancer.

The justices canceled their final two argument sessions during the spring and heard about half of those cases during two weeks of conference calls in May. They will use the same procedure when arguments begin Oct. 5, with the audio made available live to the public and the justices participating from remote locations.

"The court will continue to closely monitor public health guidance in determining plans for the November and December argument sessions," said Kathleen Arberg, the court's public information officer.

Ten cases are scheduled for argument during the October session, including a titanic legal showdown with potentially billions of dollars at stake between Google and Oracle America about copyrighting computer code. That case will be heard Oct. 7.

If the court continues to hear argument by conference call in November, two of the biggest cases of the term will be presented that way, involving the future of Obamacare and whether there's a freedom of religion exception to obeying anti-discrimination laws.