The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will resume in-person arguments at the end of August, after more than a year of pandemic-related remote hearings.
The court quickly pivoted to telephone arguments for its April 2020 sitting when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down much of the country.
The decision to return to in-person arguments for the September sitting—which starts Aug. 30—reflects “the court’s strong preference for in-person argument, based on the court’s experience of its distinctive value, and the court’s concern for the health and safety of the court and its staff, the bar, and the public,” according to new courtroom protocols.
Courthouse access will be limited to counsel, but online audio streaming of arguments will remain available until further notice, the court said in a concurrent order modifying court operations.
Only the attorney arguing the case and “no more than two other attendees whose presence is necessary to assist or supervise arguing counsel (e.g., a client, lawyer sitting second chair, or paralegal)” are allowed in the courthouse under the new protocols.
Those who are fully vaccinated won’t have to wear masks or socially distance.
The court will also allow attorneys to appear by video conference during the transition period “because of COVID-19-related medical risk to certain arguing counsel or members of arguing counsel’s household.”
Attorneys who want the remote option must ask within 14 days of a case being scheduled for argument. If one attorney is permitted to appear remotely, that doesn’t excuse opposing counsel from appearing in person, the court said.
A few hours after the announcement, the court posted orders that two July arguments in patent cases will be conducted in person.