Supreme Court to begin live oral arguments; Here’s how it works

Posted at 9:34 AM, April 29, 2020 and last updated 6:57 PM, May 18, 2023

By Court TV Staff

For the first time in its history, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments by telephone conference in a limited number of postponed cases in response to public health guidance to COVID-19. All nine justices and counsel will participate remotely starting Monday, May 4.


Here are the specific details, according to the Public Information Office of the Supreme Court of the United States:

The Court will use a teleconferencing system that will call counsel the morning of argument. All counsel for the cases to be argued that day will be called simultaneously at approximately 9:15 a.m. and will all be placed on a conference call with the Clerk of the Court, Scott Harris, to receive any last-minute instructions and to ask any remaining questions they may have. Once that briefing is completed, the phone lines for counsel will be muted, and counsel will remain on this same line until approximately 9:50 a.m. At that time, counsel will all be moved to the main conference call to await the beginning of argument.


At 10 a.m., the Justices will enter the main conference call, and the Marshal of the Court, Pamela Talkin, will cry the Court. The Chief Justice will call the first case, and he will acknowledge the first counsel to argue. Following the usual practice, the Court generally will not question lead counsel for petitioners and respondents during the first two minutes of argument. Where argument is divided and counsel represents an amicus or an additional party, the Court generally will not ask questions for one minute. At the end of this time, the Chief Justice will have the opportunity to ask questions. When his initial questioning is complete, the Associate Justices will then have the opportunity to ask questions in turn in order of seniority. If there is time remaining once all Justices have had the opportunity to question counsel, there may be additional questioning.

Once the time for the first counsel’s argument has expired, the Chief Justice will thank counsel for their argument, and acknowledge the next attorney. This process will continue until argument in the case is complete. Counsel for the petitioner in each case will be allotted three minutes for rebuttal. If there is a second case to be argued that day, the Chief Justice will call that case promptly after the end of the first argument, and the same process will be followed. The Marshal will announce the conclusion of arguments.


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