Sept 10 – The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the public to hear arguments in person for the first time in about 2-1/2 years after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Justice John Roberts said late on Friday. , according to media reports.
The court’s nine judges — all of whom have been vaccinated against COVID-19 — will begin hearing a new round of cases when the court’s next term starts on Oct 3.
Roberts announced the reopening to the public while speaking at the 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference in Colorado Springs, CNN and local media outlet Colorado Politics reported.
Court spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
No public members have been allowed inside the white marble courthouse across the street from the U.S. Capitol since pandemic-related curbs were imposed in March 2020, even though the rest of official Washington eased restrictions months ago.
The Capitol began a phased reopening to visitors and tourists in March, while the White House reopened a month later.
The court further walled itself off from the public in May after the leak of a draft opinion showing the court’s conservative bloc was poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
It erected an 8-foot (2.44-meter) high-security fence amid fears of protests that followed the publication of the leaked opinion. The decision was made the following month. The fence was removed in August.
After the outbreak of the pandemic, the court changed its way of functioning. In May 2020, he began hearing oral arguments via teleconference rather than in person, with a live audio stream provided to the public for the first time.
The judges resumed in-person oral hearings in October 2021. They were joined by lawyers, court staff, and journalists in the sparsely populated courtroom, but members of the public were still not allowed.
The content of oral arguments has also changed, with some of the previous free questionings of arguing lawyers being replaced by a more orderly just-by-justice questioning.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who in the past hardly ever spoke during arguments, became a vocal presence on the bench thanks to the new format, regularly fielding questions.
The court’s new term promises to be as momentous as its previous term.
Fresh from a landmark decision ending recognition of the constitutional right to abortion and accepting the constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense, the justices will decide several controversial cases involving race.
One includes a bid to end affirmative action policies used by colleges and universities to boost black and Hispanic enrollment.