March 16, 2020 / 3:36 PM / 25 days ago

U.S. Supreme Court to postpone oral arguments amid coronavirus concerns

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court will postpone its next round of oral arguments scheduled for later this month, including a high-profile dispute over President Donald Trump’s tax and financial records, in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Will Dunham/File Photo

The announcement to delay the argument session, which had been due to run from March 23 to April 1, marked an increase in the court’s response to the coronavirus threat after closing its building in Washington to the public last Thursday.

The postponement impacts 11 arguments spanning 14 cases, including Trump’s appeals in three separate cases to prevent his financial records including tax returns from being handed over to Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives committees and a New York prosecutor.

Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said in a statement that the court was taking the action in “keeping with public health precautions recommended in response to COVID-19,” the disease caused by the virus. Arberg said the court “will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances.”

The court did not make any announcement about arguments scheduled in cases later in April.

The move comes as states and cities nationwide imposed stricter measures such as closing schools and businesses to slow transmission of the virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday urged the cancellation or postponement of gatherings of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks.

ELDERLY JUSTICES

The coronavirus has proven to be particularly dangerous in elderly people, especially those with underlying medical issues. Three of the nine justices are over 70 years old: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (87), Stephen Breyer (81) and Clarence Thomas (71). Ginsburg has experienced a series of recent health issues including treatment in the past two years for pancreatic and lung cancer.

The court’s current term runs from October to the end of June. To adjust to the postponements, the court may need add to the number of arguments it is scheduled to hear in April, for instance, or hold some cases over to its following term, which is scheduled to begin in October.

In addition to Trump’s tax cases scheduled for March 31, the justices were set to hear a major business dispute on March 24 between technology heavyweights Google (GOOGL.O) and Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) over software copyrights.

The postponement of Supreme Court arguments in such circumstances is very rare. The court postponed its October 1918 arguments in response to the Spanish flu epidemic, Arberg said. Yellow fever outbreaks forced the court to shorten its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow fever outbreaks, she added.

Trump lost in the lower courts in the three cases involving his financial records. Two involve the Republican president’s efforts to ward off congressional subpoenas issued to third parties - Trump’s accounting firm Mazars LLP and two banks, Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE) and Capital One Financial Corp (COF.N) - demanding his bank records, tax returns and other material.

The other case involves a criminal investigation into Trump and his family real estate business in which the Manhattan district attorney is seeking the president’s tax returns.

Rulings in all the cases for which arguments were postponed were to have been made by the end of the court’s current term.

The justices have already heard arguments in a number of major cases this term, including over abortion rights, LGBT worker protections and Trump’s bid to rescind a program that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham

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