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It took until 2010 for the Supreme Court to regularly post oral argument audio and until 2017 to implement electronic filing. But yesterday, SCOTUS held its first-ever remote oral arguments and, also for the first time, the oral arguments were livestreamed to the public. It went off without a hitch.

And all it took was a global pandemic!

Advocates for transparency have tried for decades to get the US's highest court to adopt practices like livestreamed hearings and decision announcements. And for decades, the Court has resisted.

But after postponing oral arguments in March and April, the Court decided to hold this month's oral arguments by phone — and allow the public to listen in.

Noting the historic event, West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Beth Walker threw some shade at SCOTUS for taking so long to broadcast oral arguments live.


Normally, only the privileged few who are able to be in the courtroom hear oral arguments live. The Court has limited public seating available on a first-come, first-served basis. In practice, this means people usually need to be at the building between 5 and 6 a.m. for a 10 a.m. oral argument. In more extreme cases, like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, some people waited in line for four days.

Chief Justice John Roberts was at the Supreme Court's courthouse for the argument, a couple of other justices were in their offices, and the rest of the justices called in from their homes. (WE HOPE RBG CALLED IN FROM HER HOME WHICH IS HERMETICALLY SEALED AND FAR AWAY FROM PEOPLE.)

Rather than the typical free-for-all, in the teleconference setting, the justices asked questions in order of seniority. To keep things moving, Chief Justice Roberts cut off answers in order to move the questioning along.

And he did a pretty good job. The argument, scheduled to last one hour, went for 75 minutes. Not bad, Chief!

Even Clarence Thomas, who normally sits silently on the bench, joined in on the fun, asking questions of both parties. Prior to Monday, Clarence Thomas hadn't spoken from the bench in more than a year. Before, that, it was three years.

Luckily, there were no major technical snafus on this historic call. The closest things to problems were when Justice Breyer's voice cut out for a couple of seconds, and Justice Sotomayor seemingly forgot to unmute her phone for a moment before saying "I'm sorry, Chief" to John Roberts.

The case that made history was United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com. It's about whether companies can trademark names that are a generic word plus an internet domain suffix (like, for example, Booking.com). The PTO noted that it would similarly deny trademarks for names like wine.com or cotton.com.

In a rarity for the Supreme Court, two women argued today's case — Lisa Blatt of DC firm Williams & Connolly for Booking.com and Erica Ross for the Solicitor General's Office. In this month's oral arguments, 22 attorneys arguing are men and just three are women (the two women from today included).

Blatt told the Washington Post that during her oral argument, her son would be in charge of the family's dog, her daughter would be in charge of intercepting anyone who might approach their house, and her husband would be keeping time. With 40 Supreme Court oral arguments under her belt after today, Blatt has argued more cases before the high court than any other woman.

Ross argued from a conference room in the solicitor general's office, clothed in the traditional morning coat worn by government lawyers when arguing in front of the Supreme Court, despite being invisible to the justices.

The only reference to the current pandemic came when Blatt argued that

sometimes people think of generic word .coms generically. I have searched every grocerystore.com looking for toilet paper. I have now started looking at every hardware.com. I am using fooddelivery.com for all of my takeouts these days. Those are generic — generic usages of a generic word .com.

(Do people really do this? Is it a Boomer thing?) [No, Jamie, Lisa Blatt is a LIAR. DOT COM.]

Stay tuned, because over the next two weeks, the Court is hearing nine more cases, including the nuns who hate women's healthcare's challenge to the ACA's contraception mandate tomorrow and two cases about subpoenas for Trump's tax returns and financial records next Tuesday.

If you want to listen to oral arguments live, you can tune in on CSPAN.

[Oral Argument Audio / Oral Argument Transcript]

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.
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