WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Friday officially canceled its scheduled oral arguments for April because of health threats caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and left in doubt how the justices will finish their term.
The court already had postponed March arguments, which means about 20 cases -- including the battle over President Donald Trump's attempts to shield his financial records from congressional committees and a Manhattan prosecutor -- are left in limbo. The court's April session usually is its last each term.
"The court will consider rescheduling some cases from the March and April sessions before the end of the term, if circumstances permit in light of public health and safety guidance at that time," public information officer Kathleen Arberg said in a news release.
"The court will consider a range of scheduling options and other alternatives if arguments cannot be held in the courtroom before the end of the term."
In normal times, the court finishes its work by the end of June, and starts a new term in October.
The court's announcement offered no further detail but seems to leave much leeway, including whether the justices would hold some hearings by teleconference or other method. The court has never allowed cameras into its courtroom, or permitted live audio. It releases same-day audio of arguments only in rare circumstances.
The court will continue to decide cases in which it already has held argument. Some decisions, for instance, will be released Monday.
And while it is traditional that the court hold oral argument, it is not required. Every term the justices decide a handful of cases based on the written briefs alone.
Two of the court's pending issues seem particularly pressing.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and three Democratic-led congressional committees have won lower-court decisions granting them access to a range of Trump's financial records relating to him personally, his family and his businesses.
The court put those decisions on hold, and in December accepted Trump's request to review them.
A coalition of liberal groups including Demand Justice and People for the American Way last month said the court needed to act.
"The court's failure to make alternative arrangements in this time-sensitive case only serves to sanction Trump's stonewalling of investigators by indefinitely interfering with lawful subpoenas," the groups said in a news release. "Delaying this case is effectively picking a side."
The court had also agreed to decide whether states may require presidential electors to vote for the candidate who wins the state's popular vote. In 2016 and before, some of those who met as the electoral college did not do that, and courts have split on whether states may punish or replace so-called faithless electors.
The Supreme Court was supposed to hear arguments in April; states had urged a decision before voters go to the polls in November.
Oral arguments are held in close quarters, shared by spectators, lawyers, journalists and court personnel. A majority of the justices are considered to be in the higher risk category for coronavirus because of their ages.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 87 years old, and her fellow Clinton nominee Justice Stephen Breyer is 81. Chief Justice John Roberts and three other justices are 65 and older, and Justice Elena Kagan turns 60 later this month.
The justices were last on the bench together March 9. They have held private conferences remotely, with only Roberts in the room where they normally gather to decide which cases to reject or accept for review.
This article was written by Robert Barnes, a reporter for The Washington Post.
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