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Supreme Court postpones arguments because of coronavirus, citing Spanish flu precedent

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Key Points
  • The Supreme Court said Monday it will postpone arguments scheduled for March and early April because of health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The top court cited its actions during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and the yellow fever outbreaks of the 18th century as precedents. 
  • The postponement will delay arguments in three blockbuster cases over whether PresidentTrump may shield his financial records from state and congressional investigators.
A man walks up the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The Supreme Court said Monday it will postpone arguments scheduled for March and early April, including cases regarding access to President Donald Trump's financial records, because of health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The court cited its actions during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and the yellow fever outbreaks of the 18th century as precedents. 

Among other matters, the postponement will delay arguments in three blockbuster cases over whether Trump may shield his financial records, including tax returns, from state and congressional investigators. Those cases were set to be argued March 31.

Other work at the court will continue, though with adjustments. The justices will hold a regularly scheduled private conference on Friday, but some may participate remotely by telephone, according to the statement. 

Some of the court's nine justices are particularly susceptible to the infection, which public health officials have said disproportionately impacts older people and those with chronic health conditions. Six of the justices are 65-years-old or older. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the eldest on the panel, just turned 87 on Sunday and has suffered from multiple bouts of cancer.

"The Court's postponement of argument sessions in light of public health concerns is not unprecedented," the court said. "The Court postponed scheduled arguments for October 1918 in response to the Spanish flu epidemic. The Court also shortened its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow fever outbreaks."

The postponement will apply to arguments scheduled for the court's March session, which includes April 1. 

The Supreme Court announced on Thursday that it would close its building to the public indefinitely, prompting calls from civil rights groups for it to broadcast any arguments that took place behind closed doors. 

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency on Wednesday as the number of infections in the nation's capital rose. The district has also begun enforcing new regulations on bars and restaurants, including the suspension of standing service and restrictions on table seating. 

There have been at least 3,774 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and at least 69 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The District of Columbia has confirmed 18 cases, according to the data. 

The full statement from the court is below.

"In keeping with public health precautions recommended in response to COVID-19, the Supreme Court is postponing the oral arguments currently scheduled for the March session (March 23-25 and March 30-April 1). The Court will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances.

The Court will hold its regularly scheduled Conference on Friday, March 20. Some Justices may participate remotely by telephone. The Court will issue its regularly scheduled Order List on Monday, March 23 at 9:30 a.m. The list will be posted on the Court's Website at that time: https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/ordersofthecourt/19.

The Building will continue to be open for official business, and filing deadlines are not extended under Rule 30.1. The Court is expanding remote working capabilities to reduce the number of employees in the Building, consistent with public health guidance. The Building will remain closed to the public until further notice.

The Court's postponement of argument sessions in light of public health concerns is not unprecedented. The Court postponed scheduled arguments for October 1918 in response to the Spanish flu epidemic. The Court also shortened its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow fever outbreaks."

Correction: This story was updated to correct that the Spanish flu epidemic was in 1918.