SCOTUS and other courts are restricting visitors or canceling proceedings amid coronavirus concerns

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Some federal courts are changing or suspending some operations as a result of concerns about the coronavirus. The U.S. Supreme Court is among them.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Thursday that it will be closed to public visitors, although the building remains open for official business. All public lectures and visitor programs are temporarily suspended.

The Supreme Court said it was acting “out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees.”

Other federal courts are taking a range of measures.

At one end of the spectrum is the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. It has suspended all civil and criminal matters that require in-court appearances. Courthouses remain open for filings, according to a press release and coverage by Law360 and Law.com. Case-by-case exceptions may be made for nonjury matters.

In New York, the U.S. District Courts in Manhattan and Brooklyn have barred people who have traveled to high-risk countries from entering the courthouses, according to Law.com and another Law360 story. People diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have come into contact with someone with the illness also are barred. Press releases are here and here.

The Eastern District is also requiring detainees to be screened before court appearances to determine their body temperature, according to a press release. Any detainee with a temperature of at least 100.4 won’t be allowed to enter the courthouse.

Federal courts in Maryland are going further by banning some people from regions of the United States. People who traveled to high-risk countries as well as the state of Washington and New Rochelle, New York, are banned from the courthouse, according to the Baltimore Sun. Also banned are people with a COVID-19 diagnosis or self-quarantine directive, and those who had close contact with high-risk people.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is posting notices on all courtrooms advising visitors they should not enter if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or had contact with anyone with the diagnosis, if they have been asked to self-quarantine, if they have cold or flu symptoms, if they have traveled to high-risk countries or been in close contact with someone who visited the countries.

Federal courts in the Northern District of Ohio and the Eastern District of Michigan also have issued directives asking those in high-risk groups to disclose the information.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals canceled all en banc hearings and all non-case related meetings for this week, according to an online notice. Oral arguments before court panels will continue absent an order in a specific case, but lawyers can request that they appear remotely. There may be additional cancellations next week.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is removing some cases from the argument calendar and will rely only on briefs. In cases that remain on the argument calendar, the court is planning at this time to hold in-person arguments when lawyers for both parties are local. If lawyers for either party are located outside the area, the argument will be by telephone conference.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, meanwhile, is asking lawyers to notify the court if they have a fever, cough or shortness of breath of if they have had contact with anyone who may have COVID-19. The court will reschedule their arguments.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is taking a similar tack. The court is asking lawyers and pro se litigants to notify the court if they have visited high-risk countries or been in close contact with someone who has visited the countries, if they have been asked to self-quarantine, if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or if they have been in close contact with a person with the diagnosis.

And the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California asked people who were supposed to appear in the Los Angeles-area courthouses or who were called for jury duty to stay home if they are coughing, sneezing or experiencing any flu-like symptoms, according to Law360.

Federal courts are obtaining information about COVID-19 from federal agencies as well as state and local health officials, according to a press release issued Thursday by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. A Federal Court Finder can be used to link to a court’s website for specific information about court orders relating to the virus.

The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts created a task force to share information and guidance about the illness as it relates to the judiciary. The task force includes representatives from the General Services Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and Federal Occupational Health.

Story updated on March 12 to include information from the Administrative Office and from federal court websites.

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