The lawyers and justices of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will have to use phones to make and hear arguments in session. (Krieg Barrie/AP)

The lawyers and justices of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will have to use phones to make and hear arguments in session. (Krieg Barrie/AP)

A portrait of the current justices who make up the SCOTUS (AP)

A portrait of the current justices who make up the SCOTUS (AP)

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser speaks during oral arguments over telephone. (AP)

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser speaks during oral arguments over telephone. (AP)

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., at night (AP)

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., at night (AP)

Blind Justice

Posted: July 1, 2020

“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!”

That’s the familiar cry of the Supreme Court’s marshal. It means, “Be quiet and pay attention!”

The Supreme Court of the United States is in session. But lawyers and judges don’t meet in the Washington, D.C., courtroom. They attend court in their own houses . . . on the phone.

Like many others in the world, workers at the Supreme Court stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Six of the nine justices are older than 65. That means the virus poses extra risk for them. But they still have to decide important cases in time for the court’s summer break. They hear 10 cases over six days in May. The Supreme Court has heard cases for 230 years. But it has never heard them over the phone before. The public can listen along too. That’s important for court watchers—volunteers and journalists who normally come into the courtroom to take notes.

Supreme Court justices make decisions that affect the nation for decades or centuries. Lawyers present arguments. As they question, they look for clues in the body language and facial expressions of justices. But lawyers and court watchers won’t be able to see judges’ nods, frowns, or hand gestures over the phone.

Have you ever heard someone say “Justice is blind”? That means good judges don’t make decisions based on how things look. They don’t judge friends differently than strangers. They treat the poor the same way they treat the rich. But over-the-phone “blind justice” presents new challenges. Arguments in the soaring, columned courtroom can crackle with drama. Lawyers know what to say next by the way a judge reacts. Can that be replicated over the telephone?

At home or alone in their offices, lawyers spread towels on their desks to muffle sound from rustling papers. They listen closely to tell between the voices of newest justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Lawyers on the West Coast start work early in the morning because of the three-hour time difference. Who knows . . . maybe they’re still wearing their pajamas!

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. — Leviticus 19:15