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Supreme Court to allow public at hearings, first time since Covid

A crosswalk signal is seen outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2022.

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

The Supreme Court starting Monday will allow members of the public to attend oral argument hearings for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown of March 2020, the court’s press office confirmed in a statement Wednesday.

The resumption of public access will coincide with the beginning of the Supreme Court’s October 2022 term, when the court’s justices are due to hear arguments in three cases.

And it will come a year after the court resumed in-person oral arguments after more than a year of conducting those sessions remotely.

For the past year, courtroom access for those hearings had been limited to the court’s nine justices, essential court personnel, lawyers for parties in cases being argued, and journalists with full-time press credentials from the court.

Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this month said public access would resume this coming term during an address to 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference in Colorado.

In its announcement Wednesday, the court’s press office said, “Masking in the Courtroom for oral arguments will be optional.”

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But other than oral arguments, the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., “will otherwise be closed to the public until further notice,” the office said.

However, the court will continue offering a live audio feed for oral arguments, a practice that was instituted after the court barred public access to the hearings due to Covid.

The Supreme Court on March 16, 2020, said that it would postpone oral arguments that had been scheduled for the following two weeks that month due to “public health precautions recommended in response to Covid-19.”

The court then postponed oral arguments in April 2020 for the same reason. In May 2020, the court heard oral arguments via telephone conference for a number of cases that had been previously scheduled for arguments.

When the court began hearing oral arguments for its October 2020 term, it did so via telephone conference.

In-person oral arguments with no public access resumed in the October 2021 term.

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