The federal courts are tackling the coronavirus threat, making scheduling changes, encouraging electronic filing, and restricting access to facilities, among other measures.
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Pandemic Restrictions Push into Year 3
Posted: Jan. 19, 2022
A flurry of court orders issued in the past week ensures that federal courts will enter their third year of restricted or limited operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit announced that all oral arguments before the court must take place remotely through at least March 25, 2022. The court instituted a continuity of operations plan on March 18, 2020, and has held virtual oral arguments throughout much of the pandemic.
The Seventh Circuit began allowing in-person oral arguments in September 2021 but resumed remote proceedings after Covid cases surged in late December.
At the district court level, several more courts announced the suspension of jury trials throughout January and parts of February. Among the courts temporarily ceasing jury trials: the District of Alaska, the District of Arizona, the District of Maryland, the Southern District of Ohio, and the District of Utah.
The flurry of courts stopping in-person jury trials marks a stark departure from the tone of orders issued less than two months ago.
The District of Alaska—which is suspending jury trials from Jan. 7 through Feb. 7—said early last month that it anticipated returning to a regular jury schedule with no social distancing measures within several weeks.
Booster Changes Court’s Fully-Vaccinated Definition
Posted: Jan. 12, 2022
The Western District of Arkansas changed its definition of “fully vaccinated” to include booster shots, following a similar change from the Ninth Circuit.
To be considered fully vaccinated people must get their booster shot when they are eligible, the court said, citing CDC’s recent recommendation. The Western District of Arkansas uses vaccination status to determine whether someone must wear a mask.
With the surging omicron variant and continued risks brought by the spread of Covid-19, three more courts recently suspended in-person jury trials through the end of January or early February: Western District of Tennessee, Northern District of Ohio and Western District of Washington.
Meanwhile, the Northern District of Illinois announced it is partnering with public health authorities to host a Covid-19 testing site in its Dirksen Courthouse in Chicago. The building previously served as a pop-up site for Covid-19 vaccinations.
Circuits Go Remote, Districts Halt Jury Trials Amid Omicron Surge
Posted: Jan. 5, 2022
The federal appeals courts in Virginia, Colorado, and Missouri are the latest circuits to suspend in-person arguments amid increasing cases of Covid-19 driven by the more transmissible omicron variant.
The Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said Tuesday that it would hold arguments remotely during its session running Jan. 25-28. The Denver-based Tenth Circuit disclosed in dockets that it would hold oral arguments remotely in January. And the St. Louis-based Eighth Circuit said it would hold oral arguments by video conference from Jan. 10-14.
The decision follows similar calls from other federal appellate courts as Covid-19 spikes. The Ninth Circuit, Second Circuit, Seventh Circuit, and Federal Circuit have all said they plan to hold arguments remotely this month.
District courts are also changing protocols as the virus worsens again.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, canceled jury trials until Jan. 24, citing “an alarming explosion of cases” in Washington due to the omicron variant. The Northern District of California similarly suspended all criminal and civil jury trials until after Jan. 26.
Omicron Prompts Remote Arguments in Seventh, Federal Circuits
Posted: Dec. 29, 2021
The Chicago-based U.S. appeals court will hold oral arguments remotely through the end of January, as Covid-19 infections rise amid the spread of the more transmissible omicron variant.
The spread of the new variant has prompted some courts to change their pandemic protocols. Other circuits have made changes to some of their protocols, but have yet to alter oral argument plans.
The Fifth Circuit closed its courthouse to the public until further notice beginning Jan. 3 as a result of the resurgence in cases. Its oral arguments will still be held by video or in person.
The Second Circuit is evaluating its protocols for January, circuit executive Michael Jordan said.
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