Updated at 7:44 p.m.
The U.S. Supreme Court is taking the plunge. On Monday, it announced it will hear nearly a dozen oral arguments by remote telephone hook-up in May. The court said that the media would have live access to the arguments, and would be able to post online.
"In keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19, the Justices and counsel will all participate remotely," the court said in a statement. "The Court anticipates providing a live audio feed of these arguments to news media. Details will be shared as they become available."
Among the cases to be heard are three involving subpoenas for some of President Trump's financial records..
Two of them --Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP; and Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG.-- involve congressional subpoenas; the other, Trump v. Vance, involves a New York grand jury subpoena for his financial records relating to alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and another woman during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Lower courts had upheld the New York grand jury subpoena, which was directed not at Trump but at his longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA. But Trump has sought to block the subpoena, claiming presidential immunity.
He is making a similar claim in two cases involving subpoenas from the House Oversight and Financial Services committees. The lower courts also upheld the subpoenas in these cases, declaring that the congressional committees justifiably sought information from Mazars and two banks in order to determine whether Congress should enact new federal ethics laws--for instance, whether future presidents should be required to make public their tax returns.
While the outcome of the Trump subpoena cases could indirectly affect the 2020 election, another set of cases could directly affect it. Two cases--from Colorado and Washington — test whether states may punish or remove Electoral College delegates who do not cast their ballots in the presidential election for the candidate they were pledged to support.
The decision to hear oral arguments by telephone in May is more than an ice-breaker in terms of precedent. The justices have been under increasing pressure to resume arguments after a two- month coronavirus hiatus--especially as other courts across the country have in recent weeks begun conducting their proceedings remotely.
The court has long resisted attempts to have its arguments broadcast live with either audio or video, though it has in recent years, posted audio of the arguments on line at the end of each week.
Those who have pressed for live camera coverage were pleased by Monday's announcement. But Gabe Roth, of Fix the Court, said the court would no longer have any "excuse" for failing to allow at least live audio streaming of its arguments in the post-coronavirus era, and he pledged to press for video live streaming, too.
Not that anyone expects the remote arguments in May to be easy. With the justices unable to see each other, and the lawyers also unable to see the justices, and vice versa, the arguments may be more stilted than usual, with fewer follow up questions, and fewer back and forth exchanges.
Lawyers who have lately been learning to do these arguments remotely in other courts say that even though they are at home, and not dressed as they usually would be, they still like to stand up when arguing."It just feels natural when you're addressing the court, whether they can see you or not," says appellate lawyer Willy Jay.
But, inevitably, he observes, some things are very different, mainly the planning required when arguing from home, says Jay, that goes into "having to keep the dog, the kids, and the doorbell all quiet during the oral argument."