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Virtual Courtrooms might be the new normal

The Supreme Court of the U.S. made a historical move after deciding to hear oral arguments over calls in the light of COVID-19. In this historic first, virtual courtrooms will be up live on the news media so that it is available to the public. The court made its first virtual hearing, going beyond its protocol. Some of the cases to be heard are regarding the important legal battles and issues around the presidential electors. The court has also decided to hear two cases around religion.However, this new system is bound to spark up some challenges for the justices who seldom interrupt lawyers. For that, they need to set a sort of protocol to ensure the smooth functioning of the virtual courtroom.


Dan Urman, a tutor of Constitutional law and the Supreme Court course at Northeastern University, talks about the new ground rules established for the virtual courtroom. Generally, justices are made to sit on a curved bench so that they can get a good view and also pass nonverbal cues. However, for the virtual courtroom, it will follow a structured question-and-answer pattern where they will speak in order of seniority. Lawyers, in a normal courtroom, are discouraged from taking reference to their notes during arguments, but, in such a case, it might be more relaxed. Undoubtedly, the session might run into some technical difficulties and that may humanise this entire deal to a large extent.


Urman also points out the instance of the viral video of Robert Kelly where his kids came into the room where he was being interviewed for BBC, virtually. It’s a clearly relatable situation when the work-from-home scenario arises. If these instances do occur on the live stream, it will only humanise them and make them more relatable to the public. Urman says, “If the public is as engaged as I expect the public to be, it will be hard for the court to justify this not becoming the new normal.”

Subarna Basu