Supreme Court justices to ask questions by seniority during 1st-ever teleconference arguments

The public can livestream arguments in real-time when justices convene by phone.

April 28, 2020, 1:45 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn't want its first-ever livestreamed oral arguments by teleconference to be a messy free-for-all.

The public will have a chance to listen in real-time next month when the justices convene by phone to hear several cases previously postponed during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

They will take turns questioning opposing counsel in order of seniority, according to guidelines for the sessions released Tuesday by the court.

Typically, during in-person oral arguments, any justice can ask questions at any time -- a dynamic that often creates a spirited back-and-forth along the bench.

After brief opening statements by the presenting attorneys, Chief Justice John Roberts will now have the first opportunity to ask questions, followed next by Justice Clarence Thomas and continuing in order of seniority.

"If there is time remaining once all Justices have had the opportunity to question counsel, there may be additional questioning," the court said of the new format.

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Justices of the US Supreme Court pose for their official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on November 30, 2018.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images, FILE

The court does not say if or how the question period will be supervised to ensure equitable time among justices. The rules suggest the justices intend to keep each argument to one hour as usual.

The first teleconference argument will take place on Monday, May 4, for a case involving trademark law.

The move to telephone conference proceedings -- which lower federal courts have conducted for years -- is a remarkable step for the nation's highest court, which has become famous for resisting pressure to use technology to make it more accessible.

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