Federal appeals courts restrict public operations amid COVID surge

Federal appeals courts in New Orleans and Chicago have announced new plans to curb public operations in January as COVID-19 infections surge across the country, marking the latest moves in the federal judiciary to minimize exposure threats.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a statement on Tuesday the court will hear arguments by telephone or video through the end of January. The appeals court also said on-site staffing would be minimized through Jan. 31.

In New Orleans, the 5th Circuit on Wednesday said its courthouse will close to the public beginning on Jan. 3 “due to resurgence of COVID in the New Orleans area.”

The court said oral arguments will continue in person or by video, as directed by panels. The court has not made a decision regarding proceedings later in January, including a scheduled en banc session on Jan. 19.

Some federal courts in recent days have announced new vaccine and masking requirements and reduced in-person proceedings for January, measures implemented amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United States.

Globally, COVID-19 infections hit a record high over the past seven-day period, Reuters data showed on Wednesday. New York and Washington, D.C., are among the cities with the most new reported infections.

A 2nd Circuit representative in New York on Wednesday told Reuters the court was evaluating argument protocols and there were no changes to announce.

A representative from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Wednesday said a decision had not been made about the format of arguments in January. The D.C. Circuit’s next argument session begins on Jan. 10 and the court is scheduled to hear 28 cases through the end of the month.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, also based in Washington, D.C., on Monday said oral arguments in January will be held remotely due to the “changing public health conditions” in the region.

The Federal Circuit also will require anyone attending an in-person hearing to provide a negative COVID-19 test result, regardless of their vaccination status. The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit said last week that lawyers who appear for an in-person argument must be fully vaccinated to include a “booster” shot as soon as eligible.

The Boston-based 1st Circuit had earlier set plans to continue hearing cases remotely until April 2022.