The Supreme Court is known as an institution that is resistant to change. While the other two branches of government have shifted and morphed through the years, the Supreme Court has stayed static. Changing times and changing technology allowed the President and Congress to address the public more directly.
However, the Supreme Court has always resisted calls to be more transparent. As recently as a few months ago, Supreme Justice John Roberts denied reporters access to live audio recordings of two high profile cases. This was keeping with over two hundred years of tradition: the Supreme Court doesn’t change. The world just has to work around it.
Well, not anymore. Starting on Monday, the Court will be behaving a bit differently. Due to the novel coronavirus, the court will be hearing at least ten cases via teleconference. This is historic in and of itself: the Supreme Court has never heard cases outside of the actual court building. Beyond that, however, the court will even allow the public to listen in on the proceedings.
If the court were only holding its session digitally, that would be a massive shift. If the court were only allowing people to listen in, live, during arguments, that would be front-page news. That both are happening simultaneously speaks to the measure that COVID has upended US society.
Also of note is the gravitas of the cases the court will be hearing. One case involves the financial records of Donald Trump. Prosecutors for the state of New York have been seeking the president’s financial records since his election. This could lead to incredibly big shifts over the summer as the election looms in November.
The question remains, however: will these changes be lasting? After this session, will the court continue to allow people to listen in on the arguments? Many legal experts are hopeful that this will lead to a new era of transparency from the highest court in the US.
At one point in time, it would have been considered impossible for every major sporting event to be canceled indefinitely. Surely, the US would never see the Supreme Court move to phone arguments? The world we now inhabit would seem alien to people as shortly as two months ago.
Now, it seems, the US is learning to adapt to the “new normal.” Life hasn’t ground to a halt, it’s simply changed shape to accommodate the changing requirements.