Several of the justices are older and therefore potentially vulnerable to the disease.
The Supreme Court announced on Thursday that it was closing its building to the public effective almost immediately “until further notice”: A brief announcement posted on the Court’s website states that “out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees, the Supreme Court Building will be closed to the public from 4:30 p.m. on March 12, 2020, until further notice.”
Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is especially dangerous for older people, and several members of the Supreme Court are in that age bracket. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 86, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 81. Justice Clarence Thomas is 71, and Justice Samuel Alito turns 70 next month.
The Supreme Court’s announcement also states that the building “will remain open for official business, and case filing deadlines are not extended under” the Supreme Court’s rules. So it appears the justices plan to continue to work and to receive briefings on pending cases.
It is unclear, however, whether the Court will still hold oral arguments on a raft of cases it planned to hear later this month. Those cases include several matters that are likely to interest the public, including several major religion cases and a trio of cases that could potentially give President Trump sweeping new immunity from congressional oversight or from criminal investigations.
It is also unclear whether the Court will allow members of the Supreme Court bar or members of the press to hear arguments if they do take place as scheduled. As of this writing, the Supreme Court has not responded to an inquiry asking for further clarification about who is allowed in the Court’s building.
Shortly after the Supreme Court announced that it would close its building, the chief judges of the federal trial and appeals courts in Washington, DC, also announced that they were closing their buildings to all except for “judges, court staff, members of the media, and visitors with official business with the courts.”
Author: Ian Millhiser