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The Supreme Court on Monday delivered in-person oral arguments, filled with big questions about the way the upcoming term will work, the cases before the judges and the future of the court.

When Chief Justice John Roberts serves a new term at 10 a.m., it will be the first time that judges will be in the same room to hear a case in more than a year and a half. Justice Amy Connie Barrett will be on the bench for the first time since her confirmation last year. And Justice Brett Kavanaugh will be absent after a positive COVID-19 test last week.


One of the biggest unknowns about the upcoming term is whether Justice Clarence Thomas will cease to be an active participant in oral arguments as was the case before the pandemic. Justice made clear his distaste for the freewheeling argument format, which the court used, in which judges, in no particular order, would interrupt the parties’ lawyers with a barrage of questions from beginning to end of their argument.

This format was changed when the court in April 2020 turned on the remote to place orders on telephone conferences. But recently issued guidance told lawyers to be prepared to ask judges a flurry of questions and even instances in which judges “ask questions before completing their answer for the first justice.” can.”

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Lawyers will have two minutes to make their point before the free-for-all period begins. But, the guidance states, “once an advocate’s time expires, each judge shall have an opportunity to question that lawyer individually.”

It is possible that this is the time when Thomas will ask his questions. Before the pandemic the most senior judges were famous for being silent on the bench, sometimes for years on end. But he spoke during more organized pandemic arguments.

The format could present some challenges with Kavanaugh working remotely as he has COVID-19.

“I doubt they will change the format on stage, after clearly considering the structure they want,” said Ilya Shapiro, director of the Cato Institute for the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies. “It could be that Justice Kavanaugh will signal to Chief Justice Roberts if he wants to get into the scandal, or just yell into his speaker phone!”

In this April 23, 2021, file photo members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington.  Sitting from left are Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, standing from left Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Connie Barrett.  Kavanaugh will be missing from the courtroom on Monday due to a COVID-19 diagnosis.  (Erin Scheff/The New York Times via AP, Poole, FILE)

While the cases starting Monday’s period aren’t the most exciting — a groundbreaking dispute and a question about the definition of a term in a criminal statute — the judges facing Shapiro say it could be a blockbuster term.

There is a major gun rights case from New York, the second high-profile school choice in three years, and an abortion case from Mississippi in which Roe v. Wade has a chance to reverse that, depending on how the justices rule.

And it’s all happening against the backdrop of progressives’ calls for Justice Stephen Breyer to retire, court-packing murmurs from the left, the forthcoming report of President Biden’s commission on the court, and the potential that the Senate could change hands. 2022 medium term.

“It promises to be a bigger tenure than it has been in the past few years,” Shapiro said. “buckle up.”

Granthshala News’ Bill Mears and Shannon Bream contributed to this report.