The U.S. Supreme Court altered another of its traditions in response to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic by moving to limit paper filings, joining the chorus of federal courts across the country also sorting out new ways to operate.
The court on Wednesday said in an order issued “in light of the ongoing public health concerns” that certain case initiation filings, like those asking for review, need only a single paper copy, instead of the typical 40. It also said the filing could be on loose paper, rather than in booklet format.
In their open-ended order, the justices additionally eliminated the need to file any paper version of certain run-of-the-mill filings, like requests for routinely granted extensions and blanket consents to amicus, or friend-of-the-court briefs.
“I’m not surprised that the Court has de-emphasized paper filings,” said John Elwood, who heads Arnold & Porter’s Appellate and Supreme Court practice. “For an institution that honors tradition, they’ve been admirably responsive to the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus epidemic,” revising “much of how it does business.”
Those changes in response to social distancing demands, also include Justices working remotely and plans to conduct oral arguments by telephone for the first time beginning May 4.
In their order, the justices also “strongly encouraged” parties to agree to electronic service, if possible.
“Promoting electronic filings helps protect the members of the Court and their employees from potentially contaminated paper filings, and electronic filings are more readily used remotely,” Elwood said.
Paper filings are usually handled by outside “printers,” who ensure compliance with the Supreme Court’s rigid formatting requirements. These specialized printers are continuing to operate, though doing as much work remotely as possible.
The first case to be heard under the telephone format, United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V., will feature seasoned Supreme Court advocates who include Williams & Connolly’s Lisa Blatt. She’s argued more high court cases than any other woman.