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SCOTUS postpones hearing arguments due to coronavirus spread

They'll still meet privately, but will be able to do so via conference call.

Alex Wong/Newsmakers via Getty Images

Businesses, schools, and public events around the United States have begun to temporarily shut down some operations for the near future due to the global spread of the coronavirus — formally known as COVID-19. Now the highest court in the land is following suit.

According to a Monday announcement from the Supreme Court of the United States, all oral arguments for the rest of the month have been postponed for the foreseeable future. The news release says that the court made the decision "in keeping with public health precautions recommended in response" to the virus' global outbreak and that it "will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances."

Despite the postponement, members of the court will still hold their scheduled conference — where they discuss and make decisions about cases — on Friday, but will have the option of participating in the meeting via telephone instead of showing up in-person. Additionally, the court will also issue orders as scheduled on the following Monday morning, the announcement said.

The cases with now-postponed arguments include a high-profile intellectual property case against Google, a case about Congress' efforts to get ahold of President Donald Trump's tax information, and two consolidated religious freedom cases dealing with the rights of Catholic schools to hire and fire employees in line with their institutional missions.

Last week — following similar decisions at the White House and the Capitol complex — the Supreme Court closed the doors of its building to the general public in an effort to protect "the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees," according to a statement on its website.

Monday's announcement explained that the building will remain open for official business and closed to the general public while the court works to expand "remote working capabilities to reduce the number of employees in the Building, consistent with public health guidance."

This isn't the first time that the Supreme Court has taken a break from hearing cases in response to a global disease outbreak. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the court recessed for nearly one full month during October and November of that year, according to more-than-century-old reporting from the Washington Post. That was back when the court still met in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol Building.

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