Monday was also the first time that new Justice Amy Coney Barrett participated in arguments in the courtroom, despite nearly a year on the court as its most junior member.
Only about 50 people were in attendance — lawyers involved in the cases, reporters who regularly cover the court, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, some of the justices’ spouses and some court employees. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only justice who wore a mask. Sotomayor, who has had diabetes since childhood, is the only one of the justices with a known chronic condition.
Spectators sat in socially-distant spots and wore masks, although the lawyers removed theirs for their arguments. The lectern the lawyers were arguing from was also placed farther away from the justices than before the pandemic.
The court is also requiring negative COVID-19 tests from lawyers and reporters who want to be in the courtroom. Lawyers who test positive will be able to present their arguments via telephone, the court said. That’s the way lawyers had been arguing before the court because of the pandemic.
With the building closed to the public, the court’s hallways, normally bustling on mornings when the court is in session, were eerily quiet. A portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died just over a year ago, hangs in a main corridor, directly across from her friend and colleague who died in 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia. As visitors enter the building from its north side, the liberal Ginsburg’s portrait is on the left, the conservative Scalia’s on the right — in death as in life.