State Supreme Courts Gather by Videoconference to Hear Oral Arguments

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Williamsburg, Va. (April 17, 2020)—With crucial legal issues pending before them, many state Supreme Courts have turned to videoconferencing as a means to keep the wheels of justice turning in a time where social distancing makes in-person hearings difficult or impossible.

Information gathered by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) indicates that the highest court in nearly two dozen states have already heard, or plan to hear, their oral arguments remotely. As of April 17, state supreme courts in Arizona, California, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia have used video conferencing technology to gather justices and attorneys.  Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Wisconsin and Wyoming have announced they will be using video technology for their upcoming oral arguments. Several other states either have (Alaska, Missouri, Vermont, Virginia) or soon will (Connecticut, Nebraska) employ teleconferencing to facilitate oral arguments. In most cases, either live audio or video feeds of the hearings are made available to the public, with some courts providing a recording shortly after the proceeding is completed.

One the national leaders in this effort is Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of Texas, who is currently serving as president of the national Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ). He is also chairman of the NCSC board.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has required many adjustments to the justice system,” Chief Justice Hecht said in his opening remarks of the first remote hearings held by the Texas Supreme Court. “Rather than proceed without argument, we have decided to proceed through remote connections.”

Chief Justice Hecht anticipates that the surge to videoconferencing brought on by the pandemic is forever changing how courts do business.  “I can’t imagine that it’s not going to outlast the pandemic and change the way we do business generally, pretty profoundly,” he said.

NCSC is tracking this and other vital information about how courts are responding to the pandemic at ncsc.org/pandemic. NCSC is maintaining a data visualization highlighting key efforts aimed at maintaining access to justice while ensuring public health.