The Supreme Court Will Hear Arguments by Phone. The Public Can Listen In.

For the first time, the nation’s highest court will open a live audio feed as it hears arguments in 10 sets of cases.

The Supreme Court, which ordinarily stops hearing arguments in April, will hear the cases in May.
Credit...Leah Millis/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would hear arguments by telephone over six days in May. In a major break with tradition, the court said it would for the first time allow live remote access to audio of the arguments.

Among the cases the justices will hear are three about subpoenas from prosecutors and Congress seeking President Trump’s financial records.

“In keeping with public health guidance in response to Covid-19,” a news release from the court said, “the justices and counsel will all participate remotely. The court anticipates providing a live audio feed of these arguments to news media. Details will be shared as they become available.”

Although the release referred only to access by the news media, a court spokeswoman said the audio feed would also be available to the public.

The court said arguments would be heard on May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13, and it listed the 10 sets of arguments it would hear. But it did not say which cases would be heard when. That would depend, the court said, on “the availability of counsel.”

Other courts have been hearing oral arguments online, with video. The Supreme Court stopped short of taking that step.

Still, Monday’s announcement was a significant move for a court that has never allowed camera coverage or live audio. On 27 occasions over the last two decades, it has released same-day audio. But its usual practice is to release transcripts within hours but audio only at the end of the week.

The court had already postponed 20 arguments that had been scheduled for March and April, citing the coronavirus pandemic. Monday’s announcement listed 10 sets of cases to be argued in May, which included most of the major ones. The remaining arguments, including a $9 billion copyright dispute between Google and Oracle, will be rescheduled for the court’s next term, which begins in October.

Hearing arguments on the phone will present some challenges for the justices, who frequently interrupt lawyers and talk over one another. They may have set some ground rules, like asking questions in order of seniority.

The court ordinarily stops hearing arguments in April, to give itself time to issue decisions by the usual end of the court’s term, in June. Hearing arguments in May could require the justices to issue decisions in July or later, shortening their traditional three-month summer break.

In addition to the cases on Mr. Trump’s financial records, the court said it would hear arguments in several other major cases. One concerns whether members of the Electoral College must cast their votes for presidential candidates other than the ones they had pledged to support.

The court’s answer to that question could affect the presidential election, and lawyers on both sides had urged the court to decide it before the justices knew which candidate could benefit from their ruling.

The court will also hear arguments in two cases involving religion. One concerns how broadly federal employment discrimination laws apply to schools run by churches. In the other, the court will decide whether the Trump administration may allow employers to limit women’s access to free birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

Still other cases to be argued in May concern robocalls, trademarks and whether much of Oklahoma is an Indian reservation.

The court will also decide three major cases that have already been argued, including a challenge to a Louisiana law that could leave the state with a single abortion clinic, a case on whether a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from employment discrimination and one on whether Mr. Trump may shut down a program that protects young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation and allows them to work.