Supreme Court Suspends Oral Arguments Due to COVID-19

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. March 16, 2020
U.S. Supreme Court

​For the first time since the influenza epidemic of 1918, the U.S. Supreme Court has postponed oral arguments. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the court announced on March 16 that it was suspending arguments that had been scheduled from March 23 through April 1, including two cases involving claims of employment discrimination.

"In keeping with public health precautions recommended in response to COVID-19, the Supreme Court is postponing the oral arguments currently scheduled for the March session," the high court announced. "The court will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances." We've gathered articles about the Supreme Court's announcement from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

Employment Discrimination Cases

The Supreme Court had been scheduled to hear arguments on April 1 in two cases over whether the First Amendment's freedom of religion clauses prevent courts from reviewing employment discrimination claims against parochial schools when workers performed important religious functions.

(SHRM Online)

Next Scheduled Arguments Include Contraceptives Case

The Supreme Court holds oral arguments in two-week blocks that start in early October and last through April. The next fortnight on the schedule would start April 20 and include a case involving Trump administration efforts to let employers with religious or moral objections deny women insurance coverage for contraceptives.

(USA Today)

High Court Cites Other Epidemics for Action

"The court's postponement of argument sessions in light of public health concerns is not unprecedented," the court said. "The court postponed scheduled arguments for October 1918 in response to the [influenza] epidemic. The court also shortened its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow-fever outbreaks." Other work at the court will continue, though some justices may participate in a regularly scheduled private conference on Friday by phone.


Many Justices at Higher Risk

Many of the Supreme Court justices are older than 60 years of age, putting them at greater risk should they contract the coronavirus. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 87 and a survivor of four bouts of cancer. Justice Stephen Breyer is 81, Justice Clarence Thomas is 71, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. is 69, and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Sonia Sotomayor are 65.


Supreme Court Closed to Public

Before postponing its oral arguments, the Supreme Court had announced that it would be closed to the public indefinitely. "Out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees, the Supreme Court building will be closed from 4:30 p.m. on March 12, 2020, until further notice," the Supreme Court said.

(The Wall Street Journal, subscription required)


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