Supreme Court makes history with live arguments by phone

For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments by telephone, and allowed those arguments to be broadcast live by the news media, a pair of historic firsts all because of the outbreak of the Coronavirus, which had forced the Justices to postpone scheduled arguments in March and April.

For those listening to the arguments about a trademark case involving the website, the proceedings were no different than if the Justices had convened in their historic, high-ceiling marble courtroom, as Chief Justice John Roberts banged the gavel, and convened their session.

"We'll hear argument this morning in case 19-46," the Chief Justice said in his normal introduction.

"Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court," said Erica Ross, an Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General arguing the government's side.

With the Justices and the attorneys not in the same room, the Chief Justice acted as sort of a moderator on the line, interrupting the counsel to allow different Justices to speak.

"Thank you counsel, Justice Ginsburg?" the Chief Justice said.

“Again, a few points on that Mr. Chief Justice,” Ross said.

At one point, the Chief Justice said Justice Sonia Sotomayor was next - but there was silence.

After a few seconds, Justice Sotomayor was on the line - maybe having forgotten to un-mute her phone.

"I'm sorry, Chief," Sotomayor said.

The same thing seemed to happen to Ross for her final wrap up.

“Thank you Mr. Chief Justice, sorry about that,” Ross said, after a few seconds of silence.

In the past, the High Court has allowed news organizations to broadcast audio of high-stakes proceedings before the Justices, like the arguments on the Obama health law in 2011 and 2015.

But never before had the Supreme Court allowed for live coverage of arguments - that changed with the Coronavirus.

This historic day was also marked by a rare series of questions from Justice Clarence Thomas, who has marked his career on the High Court mainly by his silence on the bench.

It was only the third time in the past four years that Justice Thomas had asked a question during oral arguments - that last time was March 20, 2019.

Nearing the end of the arguments, the Chief Justice was trying to speed along the arguments.

“Briefly, Miss Blatt,” he told Lisa Blatt, the counsel for, who spoke to the Justices in a conversational tone like she was calling in for a weekday chat with one of her friends.

For the most part, the telephone audio was fine, though the Justices and counsel at times spoke over each other, causing some audio breakup like you might experience on a conference call or cell phone call.

Today's case was the start of six days of arguments by telephone spread over two weeks.

The biggest cases come next week over subpoenas issued to banks and accounting firms which have done business with President Donald Trump, as Congress and prosecutors in New York seek his tax and business records.

The President has lost in every state and federal court on the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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