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December 28, 2020 Asked and Answered

What it's like to argue before the Supreme Court during COVID-19

By Stephanie Francis Ward

Jeffrey L. Fisher has argued more than 40 U.S. Supreme Court cases, and he relies heavily on the justices’ body language during arguments. But that wasn’t possible for his last three, which were conducted by phone because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fisher took all three calls at Stanford Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, which he co-directs. He has kids at home, as well as a wife who also teaches law school remotely, and he didn’t want any interruptions from people or Wi-Fi connections.

For the first argument in May, he opted to stand at a lectern. But that didn’t feel right, and he realized that trying to replicate the in-person Supreme Court experience on the phone probably wasn’t the right approach.

So for his next two arguments, both of which were heard in November, he took the calls while sitting down at a conference table. Also, there is at least one benefit to the telephone process, Fisher says—when it’s your turn, you can take notes.

He recently shared his experiences with ABA Journal Senior Writer Stephanie Francis Ward as part of a special Asked and Answered podcast series, which looks at the way that lawyers’ lives have changed during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In This Podcast:

Jeffrey L. Fisher

Jeffrey L. Fisher, a Stanford Law School professor, co-directs its Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, and he’s also a special counsel with O’Melveny & Myers’ Supreme Court and appellate practice group. The landmark cases he has argued include Riley v. California and Obergefell v. Hodges.

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