NOEL KING, HOST:
The U.S. Supreme Court will begin an extraordinary two weeks of oral arguments today. For the first time in history, the court will actually livestream its audio. Arguments will be heard on the telephone rather than in person. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The justices are trying to simulate their normal arguments as much as possible, beginning with Chief Marshal Pamela Talkin calling the court to order with a modified version of her usual cry.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PAMELA TALKIN: Oyez, oyez, oyez. All persons having business before the honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the court is now sitting. God save the United States and this honorable court.
TOTENBERG: Because the justices and the lawyers cannot see one another, we'll all try to imagine where they're sitting or standing in their homes to hear or to present arguments. The arguments are limited to a half hour on each side. The lawyers we sampled, to a person, said they're more comfortable standing or even standing at a lectern, as they usually do, even though nobody can see them.
Each side, as usual, will get to make an opening argument for two minutes uninterrupted. Under normal circumstances, after that, the justices engage in rapid fire questioning of the lawyers, interrupting counsel frequently and even, on occasion, each other. But today, the justices will question in order of seniority, with the chief justice starting off, then Justice Clarence Thomas, if he has any questions - which he rarely does - then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, et cetera. Court sources say each justice has been allotted two or three minutes for questioning, with more questions permitted if there's time left at the end of the first round. Lawyers say there will be big challenges.
JAY SEKULOW: Well, you lose the ability to read body language. I think that's No. 1.
TOTENBERG: Lawyer Jay Sekulow will be representing President Trump next week in a case testing whether the president can block a state grand jury subpoena for his presidential financial records in a criminal case. As Sekulow observes...
SEKULOW: It's a pretty intimate event when you're actually arguing in the courtroom. You see them. You can see their reactions. You see if they nod to each other. Here you're doing this literally over a telephone line, so you lose the intimacy, I think.
TOTENBERG: Stanford law professor Jeff Fisher, who will be arguing a religion case a week from today, agrees.
JEFF FISHER: I just feel like not being able to see their faces and body language is going to be a real challenge. It is a cost for how effective and useful the arguments are going to be.
TOTENBERG: Today's only case presents a trademark question, not exactly the kind of thing to rivet public attention. Clearly, the court is using this relatively unimportant argument to see how the system is working, whether it needs to be adjusted in any way. In short, the court scheduled this one first to work out the bugs.
Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.
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