This CRS Insight provides information related to recent responses to Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) and select courts within the federal judiciary. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the policies and practices adopted by each federal court or judicial entity. Additionally, given the rapidly changing situation surrounding COVID-19, the information provided in this Insight may be superseded by new information from that which is described in the text below. If there are any questions regarding whether such changes have occurred (or about courts not included below), congressional staff may contact the author of this Insight.
A previous Insight provides information about how COVID-19 has impacted federal jury trials (available here). Another Insight provides information about the provisions of the CARES Act that address COVID-19 and the federal courts (available here).
The Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative policymaking body for the federal courts, held its regularly scheduled biannual meeting on March 17, 2020. The meeting convened by teleconference, with Conference members calling in from all 13 judicial circuits to consider several policy matters (including the authorization of a two-year pilot program to evaluate live audio streaming for some civil case proceedings). Traditionally, the Conference holds its meetings at the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) is the agency within the federal judiciary that provides, in part, administrative services and program support to federal courts. On March 17, 2020, AO issued a statement indicating that many federal courts have asked employees to work remotely. Additionally, all in-person training for court personnel has been cancelled through May 31, 2020.
As also noted by AO, courts reviewed "their continuity of operations plans and Pandemic/Infectious Disease plans to help them continue essential court operations." Along these lines, "courts are utilizing multiple audio and video conferencing technologies to host oral arguments, initial appearances, preliminary hearings, … and other procedures remotely." Courts are also posting on their individual web sites any orders or notices related to COVID-19 that address "jury service, filing deadlines, and other court business, as well as public access to the courthouse." As of this writing, all 13 U.S. circuit courts and all 94 U.S. district courts, including territorial courts, have posted such orders or notices.
On April 13, 2020, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments by telephone conference for its May session (May 4-6 and May 11-13). Previously, on March 19, 2020, the Supreme Court issued an order that the deadline to file any petition for a writ of certiorari due on or after March 19, 2020, is extended to 150 days from the date of the lower court judgement (the prior deadline was 90 days). On March 12, 2020, the Court announced that its building was closed to the public until further notice.
As discussed above, federal courts may individually issue orders or notices to respond to COVID-19. Several recent orders, presented in reverse chronological order, are highlighted below (the hypertext link for a particular court provides additional information regarding the court's response). The actions taken by these courts are presented as illustrative examples, and may not be representative of actions taken by other courts.