The Supreme Court COVID-19 Slow Down

April 23, 2020 - (4 min read)

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is known for its ceaselessness. Government shutdowns, snowstorms, anthrax, and vacancies haven’t slowed down the High Court. But it has not been spared by this global pandemic.

This term, the Supreme Court is expected to issue about 56 opinions—about the same number it issued in 1864—the fourth year of the Civil War, and the last time the Supreme Court was significantly slowed down. (The Court also took about a month-long recess during the 1918 pandemic.)

The Supreme Court will issue fewer opinions this term because it canceled oral argument for its March and April sittings. Recently, it announced it would hear oral argument over the phone in 13 cases in May. Ten other cases that were supposed to be heard this term (ending around June 30) will be heard next term (starting the first Monday in October).

The Mayoral arguments will be accessible to the public live. This is a significant deviation from normal Court practice where a transcript of the argument is made available the same day and a recording at the end of the week. A current SCOTUSblog series reveals many Americans want to attend Supreme Court oral arguments in person but are unable to do so because courtroom space is limited.

Despite having an abbreviated docket, the Supreme Court will decide numerous, high-profile cases this term. The most prominent cases involve Congressional Committee and grand jury authority to subpoena the President’s tax returns and financial documents. The most significant cases for states and local governments to be decided this term include:

The most significant case for next term involves whether the Affordable Care Act individual mandate is unconstitutional now that the shared-responsibility payment is $0, and if so, whether the entire law is unconstitutional. But this case has always been on next term’s docket. The Court moved the following cases of interest to states and local governments from this term to next term:

  • Torres v. Madrid—whether a “seizure” has occurred when police unsuccessfully attempt to restrain someone using physical force
  • Carney v. Adamswhether requiring that state courts be balanced between the two major political parties violates the First Amendment
  • City of Chicago, Illinois v. Fultonwhether a local government must return a vehicle impounded because of code violations upon a debtor filing for bankruptcy

It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will be able to issue all the opinions for this term by the end of June and whether the Court will hear more cases next term to make up for this term.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations, including the National League of Cities, representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.