Monday, March 30, 2020
Tomorrow is the last day of March, and if internet memes are to be believed, this month has felt a lot longer than its 31 days. It certainly has for me. At the beginning of March, I was still teaching classes in-person, still eating out, still thinking we would be finishing our semester in-person. Some Supreme Court advocates thought they would argue before the Court; litigants thought their cases would be heard. COVID-19 appeared only a distant threat.
As Spring Break at my University stretched on, we were on a rollercoaster (as many of you were, too), not knowing if we were coming back after Spring Break, then an extension on Spring Break, then online teaching until April 3rd, and then finally we received word that we would be teaching online for the rest of the semester. While it has all been challenging, I have felt my anxieties lessen as I have more of a concrete sense of what work will look like, even as COVID-19 has become a growing, terrible reality. Knowing that we will be staying home and working remotely for an extended period of time has given me an ability to focus, which was elusive in the middle of the month when everything was up in the air.
Seeing this headline today on CNN, “Spring cases in limbo without Supreme Court guidance on arguments during pandemic” gave me real empathy for the litigants and attorneys whose cases are in limbo. While the Supreme Court issued another order on March 19, 2020, lengthening deadlines for filing petitions and stating that motions for extensions would be granted as a matter of course, these “modifications to the Court’s Rules and practices do not apply to cases in which certiorari has been granted or a direct appeal or original action has been set for argument.” Some cases are still scheduled for arguments in late April, despite President Trump’s extension of the social distancing orders though the end of April. Additionally, there have been no announced plans for when the already-cancelled oral arguments from March will be held. Some are criticizing the Court’s unwillingness to adopt new technology, as many other courts are doing, in order to hear some of the important cases scheduled. Perhaps this pandemic will be what shifts some of the Court’s traditions, but there has been no indication of that so far.
I’m a fan of the Brené Brown idea that “clear is kind, unclear is unkind,” and in times of uncertainty it is especially true. We know leaders do not have all the answers, but our institutions, including the Supreme Court, need to make and publish clear guidance on how that institution will function. Over-communicate in a time of crisis. More guidance and clarity from the Court will allow litigants, attorneys, and the entire country to adjust as quickly as possible, just as we are all adjusting to staying at home.