Law professor Carl Tobias

How the legal world is responding to COVID-19

June 25, 2020


The COVID pandemic has uprooted how the world conducts business. We asked five faculty members for their thoughts on areas ranging from the economy to the state of journalism to judicial impacts.

In the last issue, we looked at the economy. In this issue, we hear from Carl Tobias, Williams professor of law, who shares his insights on how COVID-19 is affecting the judicial system.                                                                                                                                    

Q: How is the pandemic affecting the Supreme Court? 

A: The U.S. Supreme Court cancelled arguments in a number of cases this spring. Some arguments that it delayed received telephonic arguments which seemed less effective than in-person arguments. A number of other cases had arguments postponed until October when the Court begins a new term.

Q: What’s your prediction for how civil cases will be handled during the pandemic?

A: The federal system and many states mandate that criminal trials be conducted expeditiously and take precedence over civil trials, but even some criminal trials have been delayed. When cases are delayed, justice for litigants can suffer, as memories can fade and evidence grows stale. Too much delay can lead litigants to settle cases prematurely, which may be unfair to them.

Q: Will the pandemic affect the appointment of judges?

A: In the federal system, the pandemic has already cost the U.S. Senate one month when it could have been confirming judges. The Senate returned on May 4, but it has moved rather slowly on judges since then.  In the states, the pandemic has delayed appointment of two appellate judges in Virginia and had similar effects in some other states.