AP Courtside: Supreme Court wraps up its 1st phone arguments

WASHINGTON (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has forced the tradition-bound Supreme Court into some big changes. Starting Monday, the justices are hearing arguments by telephone for the first time.

The court will hear a total of 10 cases over six days, including President Donald Trump’s bid to keep certain financial records private. You can listen here.

Here are some observations, trivia and analysis from our Supreme Court reporters (all times local):

11:25 a.m.

“The case is submitted.” Chief Justice John Roberts has with those words wrapped up the first Supreme Court argument conducted by telephone and where audio was available live to the public.

Arguments lasted about an hour and 15 minutes on Monday. Argument had been scheduled to last an hour, as arguments in the courtroom are. Roberts kept the arguments moving by telling the two attorneys arguing “thank you, counsel” or “briefly” when he wanted to move on to questions from the next justice.

There were no real technical difficulties, though Justice Stephen Breyer’s line was briefly difficult to hear.


10:45 a.m.

Chief Justice John Roberts is keeping the first telephone Supreme Court arguments moving with phrases like: “Thank you, counsel.”

Arguments are scheduled to last only an hour as is typical at the Supreme Court. The justices are asking questions in order of seniority. Roberts is cutting in to questioning when it’s time to move from one justice to the next, stopping government attorney Erica Ross with a thank you before calling on the next justice to speak.

Some of the justices on Monday had niceties for Ross that aren’t present in a usual argument. Justice Stephen Breyer started a question and then paused. He said: “Good morning, anyway.” Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Brett Kavanaugh also had a “good morning” for Ross.


10:30 a.m.

The Supreme Court has begun hearing its first arguments by phone, and normally quiet Justice Clarence Thomas has asked a question.

After Marshal Pamela Talkin called the court to order at 10 a.m. Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts began the questioning of government attorney Erica Ross. Roberts passed the questioning to Thomas, who hadn’t asked a question during arguments in more than a year.

Monday’s case is about whether Booking.com can trademark its name. Thomas said he had a “couple of questions.” He started with: “Could Booking acquire an 800 number that’s a vanity number 1-800-Booking, for example, that is similar to 1-800-Plumbing, which is a registered mark?”


9:30 a.m.

Ring! Ring! At 9:30 a.m. Eastern, Supreme Court was calling the two attorneys arguing today’s case by phone: Erica Ross for the government and Lisa Blatt for Booking.com.

The attorneys will wait on the phone for 30 minutes before arguments start at 10 a.m. The court urged lawyers to use a landline, not a cellphone. The only case the justices are hearing today is about whether Booking.com can trademark its name.

Arguments are scheduled to last an hour, 30 minutes for each side, as is usual. Normally at 9:55 a.m. a buzzer would sound in the courtroom to alert the audience.


8:05 a.m.

It took a worldwide pandemic for the Supreme Court to agree to hear arguments over the telephone with audio available live for the first time.

Case filings were made available online just two years ago, decades after other courts. Other forays into technology, including posting opinions online, have not always gone smoothly.

Let’s hope it goes better Monday. The Supreme Court will call the attorneys at 9:30 a.m. for arguments beginning at 10, and the justices will ask questions in order of seniority after Chief Justice John Roberts.

The first case chosen by the court is somewhat obscure, about whether the travel website Booking.com can trademark its name, for its first foray into remote arguments. The lawyers on both sides are well known to the justices and experienced in arguing before the nation’s highest court.


Follow AP’s Supreme Court Twitter feed at https://twitter.com/AP_Courtside. And Supreme Court reporters Mark Sherman at https://twitter.com/shermancourt and Jessica Gresko at https://twitter.com/jessicagresko.