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Supreme Court, for first time since 1918, postpones oral arguments

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to shield a California deputy who killed a 13-year-old carrying a pellet gun. (Dreamstime/TNS)

The Supreme Court announced Monday it is postponing oral arguments scheduled for later this month due to the coronavirus, something it has not done in more than 100 years.

The court already had closed its doors to the public last Thursday until further notice “out of an abundance of caution.”

The justices had several major cases scheduled for oral argument in March. Tops on the list were battles over subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s tax returns and financial records from congressional committees and New York prosecutors. Trump’s lawyers want the documents to remain shielded.

“In keeping with public health precautions recommended in response to COVID-19, the Supreme Court is postponing the oral arguments currently scheduled for the March session,” the announcement said. “The court will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances.”

The last time oral arguments were postponed was in 1918, due to the Spanish flu epidemic. The court also shortened its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow fever outbreaks.

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There had been speculation that the court – which famously conducts business as usual even during government shutdowns – might hold the oral arguments but without allowing the public inside. Only the justices, lawyers arguing the cases, and journalists would have been present under that scenario.

The justices will hold their regularly scheduled private conference Friday, but some of them may participate by phone, the court said. That likely will include Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turned 87 on Sunday and has had four bouts of cancer during the past two decades.

Also postponed:

• A major test of the separation of church and state in a case concerning the right of religious schools to fire teachers despite employment discrimination laws.

• A copyright battle over Google’s use of Oracle’s Java programming language to create Android, the world’s most popular mobile software.

The high court holds oral arguments in two-week sittings that begin in early October and extend through April. The next ones scheduled would begin on April 20. Among them:

• Cases from Washington State and Colorado on whether the 538 members of the Electoral College must vote for their states’ winning candidates.

• An effort by the Trump administration to let employers and universities with religious or moral objections deny women insurance coverage for contraceptives.

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© 2020 USA Today