by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The Supreme Court handed down opinions remotely on Monday, marking the first time since Bush v. Gore that the justices issued rulings without reading decisions from the bench during an official public session.
Much of the High Court’s business is continuing as normal despite the coronavirus pandemic. The justices, however, suspended their next round of arguments on March 16, while the Court itself is closed to visitors.
The coronavirus pandemic has subsumed the other branches of government. The Senate on Friday failed to pass a $1.8 trillion stimulus package to bolster workers and business interests facing daunting economic prospects. The White House is similarly scrambling to manage the social fallout of a public health crisis that shows no signs of abating. Yet the official business of the Supreme Court has a sense of normalcy about it. Much of the justices’ day-to-day work can be done remotely, and the Court looks poised to continue digital release of its decisions. A Court spokeswoman said Monday that Chief Justice John Roberts presided over a regular Friday meeting from the Court, while the other justices dialed in by phone.
How long this state of affairs can last is unclear. High-profile matters from the canceled March sitting, including three disputes over subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s financial records, have not yet been rescheduled. The Court has not yet canceled its April argument session, which begins April 20, but the advanced age of many justices dictates extreme caution. Six members of the Court are over the age of 65, and two are at least 80 years old, leaving them at high risk of serious infection.