The United States Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Back in black: U.S. Supreme Court opens its momentous new term

WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices took a step again towards normalcy on Monday on the primary day of their new nine-month term as they carried out oral arguments in particular person for the primary time in 19 months as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, holding a muted and well mannered session in a socially distanced courtroom.

The courtroom’s term contains main instances in the approaching months on abortion and gun rights.

Eight justices appeared in particular person, sporting their conventional black robes as they entered the ornate and sparsely populated courtroom and sat behind the mahogany bench. One justice, Brett Kavanaugh, participated remotely after testing constructive for the coronavirus final week, along with his questions audible by way of audio system in the courtroom. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wore a black face masks, whereas the courtroom’s different members current went maskless.

Monday additionally marked the primary time that the courtroom’s junior-most member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, participated in an in-person argument. As is customary for a new justice, Barrett, appointed by former President Donald Trump final yr to switch the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sat on the far proper of the bench and was final to ask questions.

The justices had been joined by legal professionals, courtroom employees and journalists – all masked, aside from the legal professionals arguing the instances, and unfold out among the many rows of seats – in their spacious column-lined courtroom. No members of the general public had been current.

Within the first of two arguments heard on Monday, the justices expressed skepticism about Mississippi’s declare that Tennessee is successfully stealing its water from an underground aquifer that runs beneath each states.

The justices appeared to have realized some classes from their pandemic-prompted experiment of holding oral arguments by way of teleconference. They appeared to make use of some components of that extra structured strategy, with justices cautious to attend their flip earlier than talking, in distinction with the earlier rough-and-tumble format in which justices competed with one another to get a phrase in.

At occasions, Chief Justice John Roberts, seated in the middle of the bench, requested every justice in flip in the event that they needed to pose a query. Roberts additionally conferred with the justices sitting on both aspect of him: Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer.

Thomas, who famously virtually by no means spoke throughout in-person oral arguments in the previous, had repeatedly participated throughout teleconference arguments – and shortly requested the primary query of the new term, indicating he’ll proceed to be a vocal presence.

Monday’s second argument was a Georgia prison case involving a person convicted of being a felon possessing a firearm.

The courtroom constructing has been closed to the general public since March 2020 as a result of pandemic.

One other change embraced by the tradition-bound courtroom is reside audio of oral arguments, a apply it had rejected till the pandemic spurred its use in Might 2020. That apply continued on Monday.

Earlier than listening to arguments, the courtroom acted on some appeals.

It cleared the way in which for New York to gather a $200 million surcharge imposed on opioid producers and distributors, ended Oracle Corp’s (ORCL.N)problem to how the Pentagon awarded a now-canceled cloud computing contract and declined to listen to a New Jersey case involving a authorized protection that always protects law enforcement officials from accusations of extreme drive.


The courtroom, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, has come below shut scrutiny after on Sept. 1 permitting a Texas legislation that bans abortion after six weeks of being pregnant to enter impact.

Among the many instances the justices are on account of hear throughout their new term is a problem set to be argued in December to abortion rights involving Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed state legislation banning the process after 15 weeks of being pregnant. Mississippi has requested the justices to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

A couple of dozen folks attended an anti-abortion rally exterior the courtroom. Father Frank Pavone, nationwide director of a bunch known as Clergymen for Life, led a prayer calling for the tip of abortion He talked about Trump’s three conservative Supreme Court appointees.

“All three, we are confident, will rule the right way,” Pavone mentioned.

The justices are scheduled in November to listen to a problem backed by the Nationwide Rifle Affiliation to New York state’s restrictions on folks carrying hid handguns in public in a case that would additional undermine firearms management efforts nationally.

All 9 justices, three of whom are over age 70, have been vaccinated in opposition to COVID-19, which has confirmed to be notably harmful among the many aged.

They’re being examined repeatedly, in addition to others who attend the oral arguments. Though Kavanaugh examined constructive for the coronavirus final week, the courtroom mentioned he had no COVID-19 signs. Written steerage for legal professionals requires them to be examined for the coronavirus however there is no such thing as a vaccine requirement.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Enhancing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone

Our Requirements: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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