The Supreme Court today issued an order announcing the return of in-person oral arguments next month, but counsel will have the option — and, under some circumstances, the duty — to appear remotely. Counsel have not been physically present in the court since April 2020, when the court began requiring appearances by video or telephone conference. (Here, here, and here.)
Under the order, an attorney can present their argument remotely as long as they inform the court and opposing counsel of that choice on a revised appearance form within seven days after the argument is scheduled. A remote argument can be arranged later if counsel cannot appear in person because of “extraordinary cause related to medical reasons.”
A California Courts news release by Merrill Balassone says “[a]ll justices will appear in person for oral argument, barring any unforeseen circumstances.”
Courtroom seating will be limited to 35 people who do not have or possibly have COVID — excluded are those who (a) have tested positive within the previous five days, (b) are ill and waiting for test results, (c) have had a fever within the prior 24 hours, or (d) have COVID symptoms that have persisted over the previous five days.
Counsel and spectators “must wear well-fitted face coverings,” although counsel are “encouraged” to unmask while arguing. The order does not state any masking protocol for the justices themselves.
[Update: The order says it “supersedes” prior oral argument orders. That presumably means that the uninterrupted opening argument time promised by the now superseded orders (see here and here) is a thing of the past.]
Anybody who tests positive or has COVID symptoms within five days after attending an argument “shall notify the clerk’s office.”
The November arguments will be in San Francisco. When or if the court will return to its pre-pandemic routine of also holding hearings in Los Angeles and Sacramento is not known. [Update: Judicial Council spokesperson Cathal Conneely informs that arguments are currently scheduled in San Francisco through January 2023, that the February arguments are currently scheduled for Sacramento, and that the April arguments are currently scheduled for Los Angeles. (See the court’s 2022 and 2023 calendars.)]