The new format appears to have slightly changed not just form but also function, not just style but also substance. Normally, when one justices raises an issue, another might ask for counsel to expand on the answer. But because everyone’s jumping in and around, the attorneys and justices are all over the place and back again. It’s hectic. With the current setup, the jurists seem to do a better job of building on each others’ questions and minimizing grandstanding. It’s perhaps been something of a relief for practitioners, as they proceed through the questioning with some sense of what’s coming next rather than entertaining a volley of queries, never certain they will have a chance to fully answer.

Televising the revolution

Judicial transparency advocates have long tried to change the court’s ways, arguing that the justices would have more credibility and Americans would better understand government if oral arguments were visible. The response has always been “no.” Cameras are barred in the courtroom ostensibly because the electronic eye changes peoples’ behavior. Now that audio of the hearings is being livestreamed, the revolution will probably still not be televised. But it might be harder for the court to justify making the public wait days to hear recordings of the proceedings.

Given its fondness for tradition, it’s not certain the court’s pandemic-induced experiment will lead to a new normal. For the public, this month’s surprisingly enlightening lineup of phone arguments, which have so far gone delightfully smoothly, may well be the sole opportunity to hear live cases without being in DC and waiting in line for limited seating. Likewise, the newly effusive Thomas is probably a limited feature. Catch them while you can.

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