How long before all branches of government and federal agencies stop meeting in person? Is it perhaps an overly hasty, drastic and dangerous precedent Constitutionally speaking? This rush to move all proceedings to online ‘remote’ interaction – even the highest levels of government – at the very least heightens the possibility of our democracy being hacked, as many prior media reports have acknowledged in the case of Congressional remote voting procedures.
And now another unprecedented and historical first: the Supreme Court will now go to hearing cases remotely via telephone, the AP reports Monday.
“The changes are a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has made holding courtroom sessions unsafe, especially with six justices aged 65 or older and at risk of getting seriously sick from the virus,” AP reports.
The court has ten cases to hear over the next week, and it’s as yet unclear whether the “experiment” will work. One advantage is that livestream proceedings will reportedly be able to be heard by the public, while at the same time shielding elderly justices from the possibility of infection.
The new livestreamed sessions began Monday mid-morning. The AP details some of the high profile cases as follows: “Cases that will be heard over the next two weeks include President Donald Trump’s effort to shield tax and other financial records and whether presidential electors have to cast their Electoral College ballots for the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state.”
And lo and behold, there are already problems:
The session, being held by phone because of the coronavirus outbreak, included a few minor hiccups. Roberts had to call on Justice Sonia Sotomayor twice when it was her turn to question Ross. Sotomayor said, “I’m sorry, chief,” before asking her questions.
Later, Justice Stephen Breyer’s audio was distorted when he had questions for Blatt. The audio improved after a few seconds and Blatt was able to answer the question.
The case being argued Monday will determine whether businesses can get federal trademark protection for website names such as Booking.com that center on a commonly used word. Booking.com, owned by Booking Holdings Inc., is seeking to be put on a government registry that provides nationwide benefits.
The ‘remote’ sessions will to some extent alter procedural elements and order of arguments. “The court sometimes issues opinions at the start of argument sessions, with the justice who wrote for the majority reading a summary of the opinion and, more rarely, a second justice summarizing a dissent,” AP continues.
“But in another change wrought by the virus outbreak, opinions are being posted online without any statements from justices. The court will next issue opinions on Thursday.”
It’s as yet unclear as to when the court would meet in person again, in yet another pandemic-driven alteration which the American founding fathers likely never envisioned would possibly have happened.