The federal courts are tackling the coronavirus threat, making scheduling changes, encouraging electronic filing, and restricting access to facilities, among other measures.
Follow the latest changes in court operations using our interactive map.
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Vaccinations Change Courts’ Entry Guidelines
Posted: April 14, 2021
Courts have updated guidelines to allow access for fully vaccinated individuals, those who have received their last dose of vaccine for more than two weeks.
The Northern District of Alabama exempted mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals in its Northeastern and Northwestern divisions, if they present a valid vaccination card.
The Southern District of New York says that domestic travelers who have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days can enter the courthouse without needing to show proof of quarantine or a negative test. The court also exempted fully vaccinated individuals from a number of entry prohibitions. For example, people who attended large gatherings or went on a cruise can now enter the court if they were fully vaccinated before those activities.
Meanwhile, more courts show signs of reopening.
The Central District of California announced phase three of reopening for the Southern Division; in-court hearings are now permitted at the discretion of the assigned judge, and jury trials will start on May 10, 2021.
The District of New Hampshire is allowing jury trials to proceed if all parties request and agree to an in-person hearing. It expects regularly scheduled jury trials to resume September 1, 2021.
The D.C. Circuit reopened its courthouse cafe due to the number of COVID cases decreasing, the number of people getting vaccinated increasing, and the District Court incrementally resuming criminal jury trials.
More District Courts Resume In-Person Jury Trials
Posted: April 7, 2021
Two additional district courts—the Southern District of Indiana and the District of Delaware—resumed in-person civil and criminal jury trials April 5.
The Southern District of Indiana announced the resumption of jury trials in February, while the District of Delaware allowed its order suspending in-person jury trials to expire April 5. The District of Delaware said in a notice that the decision “to proceed to trial is left to the discretion of each individual judge of the Court.”
Meanwhile, the District of the Virgin Islands announced that it would push back its projected resumption of jury trials until at least May 1 due to concerns over new variants of the coronavirus and “apprehension of another COVID-19 surge.”
As more district courts eye resuming in-person juries, officials are drawing up plans on how to address the backlog of cases awaiting trial. The Eastern District of Louisiana doesn’t plan to resume jury trials until June 7, but it released criteria for how it’ll choose which cases go first. Criminal cases involving detained defendants will receive priority, the court announced April 5.
Vaccine Status an Issue at Trial
Posted: March 31, 2021
Vaccine status is already being raised as an issue for people not wanting to appear in person in one federal court.
Columbia University employees want witnesses for the university who don’t want to appear in person at an April trial over the school’s retirement plan to tell the federal judge presiding over the trial whether they’ve received a Covid-19 vaccine.
The participants in the Monday filing said they preferred live testimony, noting their attorneys’ “personal experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has been that, no matter how prepared witnesses are for video testimony, there are inherent challenges in testifying remotely, and witnesses who testify remotely deliver less effective testimony.”
Vaccine status is being considered by another court for entry. At the District of Connecticut, people may still enter a court after having close contact with someone who has COVID-19 if they’ve been vaccinated.
The District of Puerto Rico unveiled its protocol for in-person hearings, which includes a process by which attorneys will have to use two-way radios to conduct sidebars.
Supreme Court Holds First Pandemic-Era In-Person Conference
Posted March 24, 2021
Most of the U.S. Supreme Court justices met in-person for their private conference last week for the first time since the pandemic forced a shift to remote work.
It was the first time the justices—who have all been vaccinated—met in-person to conduct business since going remote in March 2020. The Supreme Court said in an email that at least one justice participated remotely but declined to comment further.
The Supreme Court will still meet remotely for its March and April arguments.
Meanwhile, at least two additional district courts issued orders the past week allowing in-person jury trials to resume immediately.
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