On Monday May 4, 2020, for the first time in history, the Supreme Court engaged in remote oral arguments for a trademark case involving Booking.com. The experience was obviously unique, but the Court did not deviate from all traditions. The proceeding began with the highly recognizable “OYEZ! OYEZ! OYEZ!”
Interestingly, the Court aired the proceeding live to the public. Under normal circumstances, the Court restricts courtroom attendance and prohibits television cameras. Obviously, the pandemic forced the Court to conduct remote proceedings, but I don’t know why the Court decided to live stream the proceeding to the public. That being said, I think it is a great change and probably long overdue. Maybe this was the excuse needed to break the longstanding tradition. Hopefully, the Court will continue to broadcast proceedings once the Court returns to in-person proceedings.
Judges Speak in Turn
Another interesting result of remote oral arguments stems from the need to maintain a semblance of order when conversing. As known by anyone who has used teleconference equipment, it’s nearly impossible to decipher an individual’s statements when multiple parties are speaking. To combat this issue, the Justice asked their questions in an orderly fashion based on seniority.
Typically, the Justices would interrupt counsel at anytime to pose a question and the questions can come in rapid fire from different Justices. While this free-for-all type practice is usually a necessary component to allow questions to build on each other and allow the Justices to collectively address a certain aspect of the case, it can become hectic at times. I wonder if the Court will decide to keep this format of questioning when it transitions back to in-person proceedings.
Next Opportunity to listen live
If you missed the Supreme Court’s first remote oral arguments, you will have another opportunity on Tuesday May 5, 2020 to listen to a Supreme Court proceeding live. You may not have many more of these opportunities. I recommend at least tuning in to hear a live delivery of “OYEZ! OYEZ! OYEZ!”