FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2018, file photo, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a formal group portrait to include the new Associate Justice, top row, far right, at the Supreme Court building in Washington. Seated from left: Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. Standing behind from left: Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Elena Kagan and Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. On Monday, May 4, 2020, the Supreme Court for the first time audio of court's arguments will be heard live by the world and the first arguments by telephone. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

AP Courtside: Justice Thomas breaks his court silence

May 04, 2020 - 9:32 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has forced the tradition-bound Supreme Court into some big changes. Starting Monday, the justices are hearing arguments by telephone for the first time.

The court will hear a total of 10 cases over six days, including President Donald Trump’s bid to keep certain financial records private. You can listen here.

Here are some observations, trivia and analysis from our Supreme Court reporters (all times local):


10:30 a.m.

The Supreme Court has begun hearing its first arguments by phone, and normally quiet Justice Clarence Thomas has asked a question.

After Marshal Pamela Talkin called the court to order at 10 a.m. Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts began the questioning of government attorney Erica Ross. Roberts passed the questioning to Thomas, who hadn't asked a question during arguments in more than a year.

Monday's case is about whether can trademark its name. Thomas said he had a “couple of questions.” He started with: “Could Booking acquire an 800 number that's a vanity number 1-800-Booking, for example, that is similar to 1-800-Plumbing, which is a registered mark?”


9:30 a.m.

Ring! Ring! At 9:30 a.m. Eastern, Supreme Court was calling the two attorneys arguing today’s case by phone: Erica Ross for the government and Lisa Blatt for

The attorneys will wait on the phone for 30 minutes before arguments start at 10 a.m. The court urged lawyers to use a landline, not a cellphone. The only case the justices are hearing today is about whether can trademark its name.

Arguments are scheduled to last an hour, 30 minutes for each side, as is usual. Normally at 9:55 a.m. a buzzer would sound in the courtroom to alert the audience.


8:05 a.m.

It took a worldwide pandemic for the Supreme Court to agree to hear arguments over the telephone with audio available live for the first time.

Case filings were made available online just two years ago, decades after other courts. Other forays into technology, including posting opinions online, have not always gone smoothly.

Let's hope it goes better Monday. The Supreme Court will call the attorneys at 9:30 a.m. for arguments beginning at 10, and the justices will ask questions in order of seniority after Chief Justice John Roberts.

The first case chosen by the court is somewhat obscure, about whether the travel website can trademark its name, for its first foray into remote arguments. The lawyers on both sides are well known to the justices and experienced in arguing before the nation’s highest court.


Follow AP's Supreme Court Twitter feed at And Supreme Court reporters Mark Sherman at and Jessica Gresko at

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