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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.