Supreme Court to hold May arguments by teleconference amid coronavirus crisis

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Monday it will hold arguments by teleconference in May in key cases, including President Donald Trump's bid to shield his tax and other financial records.

The court will make live audio of the arguments available for the first time. It had previously postponed courtroom arguments for March and April because of the coronavirus.

The court will hear 10 cases in all between May 4 and May 13. In addition to fights over subpoenas for President Trump's financial records, they include two cases about whether presidential electors are required to cast their Electoral College ballots for the candidate who won their state.

The justices and the lawyers arguing the cases all will participate remotely. The court said a live audio feed will be provided to news organizations, which will be able to relay the arguments in real time.

The court has never live-streamed courtroom arguments and only rarely has it made the audio available on the same day. Cameras also are not allowed in the courtroom.

Most federal appeals courts already have moved to allow arguments by phone, though some cases are being postponed or decided without arguments.

The Supreme Court did not indicate when it might decide the cases it will hear in May. The court usually winds up its work for the summer by the end of June, and returns to the bench on the first Monday in October. Another 10 cases that were postponed because of the virus outbreak will be argued in the fall, said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor who will argue one of those cases, involving rapes by members of the military.

The justices last met in public on March 9, and have held private conferences by telephone since then. The court has decided seven cases in the past month, and while the justices customarily read a summary of the decision from the bench, all the opinions have been released online.

The justices all remain healthy, court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg said.

Six of the nine justices are 65 and older, at higher risk of getting very sick from the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, and Stephen Breyer, 81, are the oldest members of the court.

The only other time Supreme Court arguments have been held outside the 85-year-old court building was in October 2001, when anthrax was detected in the court mailroom. That led the justices to hold arguments in the federal courthouse about a half mile from the Supreme Court, but only for one week.

In 1918, when the court still met inside the Capitol, arguments were postponed for a month because of the flu pandemic. Smallpox outbreaks in the late 1700s also caused postponement of court business.