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Fair Courts E-Lert: U.S. Supreme Court Announces Return to In-Person Oral Arguments

This Fair Courts E-Lert highlights SCOTUS’s return to in-person oral arguments, an eviction diversion toolkit published by Ohio’s high court, and more.

Last Updated: September 24, 2021
Published: September 29, 2021

U.S. Supreme Court Announces Return to In-Person Oral Argu­ments

On Septem­ber 8, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will resume in-person oral argu­ments when it returns for its Octo­ber term in the fall. On the same day, over 75 groups also sent a letter to the chief justice urging him to make live audio stream­ing of argu­ments perman­ent.

The Court’s announce­ment said only the justices, essen­tial Court person­nel, attor­neys in the cases being argued, and members of the Court’s press corps may attend argu­ments in person, “out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employ­ees.” However, the Court “anti­cip­ates provid­ing a live audio feed” for the public.

The Court has been hear­ing oral argu­ments remotely with livestreamed audio since May 2020 due to the pandemic. This fall will be the first time that the Court is provid­ing live audio for in-person argu­ments.

The Court’s fall term will also bring a new hybrid format for oral argu­ment: the justices may ask ques­tions whenever they like, as was the case pre-pandemic, but once an attor­ney’s time has expired, each justice may ask specific ques­tions in order of seni­or­ity.

Ohio Supreme Court Releases Evic­tion Diver­sion Toolkit for Judges

On Septem­ber 9, the Ohio Supreme Court published a compre­hens­ive toolkit for judges to use to help divert land­lords and tenants away from formal court evic­tion proceed­ings.

The toolkit explains how courts can facil­it­ate access to federal rental assist­ance, educate parties about their rights and avail­able resources, and encour­age collab­or­a­tion between community stake­hold­ers. It also includes sample forms and flyers that courts can use in their evic­tion diver­sion efforts.

The toolkit, along with a website with cent­ral­ized inform­a­tion for indi­vidu­als facing evic­tion, was created by the court to help mitig­ate the impact of the pandemic on Ohio renters. Although Ohio received $775 million in federal rental assist­ance, News 5 Clev­e­land reports that much of that money has been unused in parts of the state.

Pew reports that nation­wide, local judges have determ­ined evic­tion cases based on differ­ing inter­pret­a­tions of state and federal hous­ing policy, creat­ing dispar­ate outcomes for tenants. In August, the New York Times repor­ted that Attor­ney General Merrick Garland met with 35 state supreme court justices and urged them to use their author­ity to prevent or delay evic­tions.

Vaccin­a­tions Mandated for Oregon Judges and Staff

On Septem­ber 16, Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters announced a coronavirus vaccine mandate for all 2,000 employ­ees of the state’s judi­ciary. This mandate is an update to an August order in which Walters reques­ted, but did not require, all staff to get vaccin­ated.

The vaccine mandate order reads, “unvac­cin­ated indi­vidu­als continue [to] pose a risk to those work­ing in and enter­ing our court­houses; a risk to the continu­ity of our court oper­a­tions; a risk to the health of our communit­ies, includ­ing to those who cannot be vaccin­ated; and a strain on our local and statewide health­care systems.” Accord­ing to Willamette Week, at the time the vaccine mandate was issued, approx­im­ately 14 percent of judges and court staff across the state remained unvac­cin­ated.

Other courts or indi­vidual judges have adop­ted similar meas­ures. In New York, court staff are required to get vaccin­ated or submit to regu­lar Covid-19 test­ing. In Phil­adelphia, court staff must get vaccin­ated or offer proof of a medical exemp­tion. And in Milwau­kee, a federal judge is now requir­ing every­one who appears in his courtroom, not just court staff, to provide proof of vaccin­a­tion.