Supreme Court keeping live audio as it opens again to public

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says it will continue providing live audio broadcasts of arguments in cases, even as it welcomes the public back to its courtroom for a new term that begins Monday.

The justices began providing live audio of arguments after the court closed to the public in March of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Monday will be the first time in more than two and a half years that the justices will hear arguments with members of the public present.

Chief Justice John Roberts had said earlier this month that the public would be allowed back in October, following the court's summer break. But the court had not announced specifics or said what would happen to the audio feed of arguments the court has been providing through its website. Before the pandemic, audio of arguments was generally available only several days after they took place.

On Wednesday the high court announced that the building would still remain closed to visitors “until further notice” outside oral arguments, which are scheduled on four days in October. Members of the public who attend on those days will not be required to wear masks.

The court at first postponed arguments entirely in 2020 because of virus concerns but went on to hear them by phone for more than a year and a half. The justices returned to in-person sessions without the public in the fall of last year and heard their entire last term without being open to the public. That included big cases in which they ultimately expanded gun rights and stripped away women’s constitutional protections for abortion. Aside from arguing lawyers, only the justices' law clerks, court staff and journalists who cover the court were allowed to be at argument sessions, and for a time there were mask and testing requirements.

On the first day of the new term Monday the court will hear cases involving the nation’s main anti-water pollution law, the Clean Water Act, and a dispute between states over unclaimed money. Big cases already on the docket this term include one challenging the role of race in college admissions and another that could further weaken the Voting Rights Act.

The court looks different from the last time the public was allowed to see the justices on the bench, with two new justices. Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020. And Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the court's first Black female justice, joined the court following the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer in June.

The changes mean that for the first time a majority of the justices are not white men, and for the first time four women are sitting together on the court. The justices will hold an invitation-only ceremonial investiture for Jackson in their courtroom on Friday.