AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it will hear oral arguments by telephone in a dozen cases this May. It's a first in the court's history with news organizations granted immediate access to the audio. The justices had cancelled arguments in March and April because of the coronavirus. Now roughly half of those cases have been rescheduled for May with the rest to be heard next term. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Among the most time-sensitive cases that will be heard are those involving congressional and grand jury subpoenas for President Trump's financial records. The subpoenas were issued not to Trump but to his longtime accountants as well as two banks that have repeatedly lent him large sums of money. Trump, however, has sought to block all of them, claiming presidential immunity. The two congressional subpoenas issued by the House oversight and financial services committees were upheld by the lower courts as well within their powers to seek information needed for legislation - for example, whether Congress should enact a new law that requires future presidents to make public their tax returns. A third subpoena, issued by a New York grand jury, is for records related to its investigation of hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and another woman during the 2016 presidential election campaign. It also was upheld by the lower courts.
While the outcome of the subpoena cases could indirectly affect the 2020 election, another set of cases could have a direct effect. At issue in the two cases are state laws that punish or remove Electoral College delegates who do not cast their ballots for the candidate they're pledged to support. The justices have been under increasing pressure to resume oral arguments after a two-month corona hiatus, especially as other courts across the country have begun to conduct their proceedings remotely - not that anyone expects the telephone arguments will be easy. With the justices unable to see each other and the lawyers also unable to see the justices, oral argument may be more stilted than usual, with fewer follow-up questions and answers. Lawyers who've done these remote arguments say that even though they're at home, some things are the same. Here's appellate lawyer Willy Jay.
WILLY JAY: A lot of us who've argued by phone have in common, as I've learned this week from talking to fellow lawyers, is that a lot of us still find that we stand up when arguing. It just feels natural when you're addressing the court, whether they can see you or not.
TOTENBERG: But as Jay observes, some things are very different.
JAY: One of the unexpected things about arguing by phone from home was the planning that went into having to keep the dog, the kids and the doorbell all quiet during the oral argument.
TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.