The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Friday said it was delaying its argument schedule for next week, amid rising court restrictions over the COVID-19 respiratory illness.

The court did not explicitly mention coronavirus in its notice announcing the postponement of next week’s arguments. It did say it was making the decision “[d]ue to concern for the safety of our communities and our employees.”

“Counsel will receive orders in those cases and will be provided additional guidance regarding rescheduling,” Friday’s notice reads.

The Fourth Circuit previously sent out notices in several cases scheduled for next week’s sitting, encouraging them to contact the court if they were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or were in contact with someone with the virus. “This will enable the Court to reschedule an argument that might otherwise risk spreading the Coronavirus,” the notice, sent on Monday, read.

Other federal courts across the country have restricted access to courthouses, delayed arguments or offered ways for attorneys to appear in court remotely in response to coronavirus. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rescheduled arguments in two high-profile cases, and relocated arguments in other cases. The court is also allowing more widespread use of phone and video conferencing.

The federal appeals court closest to the Fourth Circuit’s courthouse in Richmond, Virginia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has not delayed arguments, but did send notices to counsel to not appear for upcoming cases if they have any symptoms of coronavirus. Visitors are also restricted at the Washington, D.C., federal courthouse.

Seventy-three cases were scheduled for the Fourth Circuit’s sitting next week. Among those was a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which makes it easier for the federal government to deny legal status to immigrants who have also applied for public assistance.

A notice was filed Tuesday in the public charge case that arguments had been rescheduled from March 18 until May 5. A clerk for the court said at the time that the rescheduling was not related to the coronavirus.

Attorneys at Georgetown’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, who are representing plaintiffs in the case, filed a motion Thursday to expedite oral arguments, noting the “case has been briefed in a timely fashion, with neither side making any requests for extensions in light of the pressing matters at issue.”

The filing also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as reason to have arguments sooner than later.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has magnified the harms caused by the rule—particularly to vulnerable populations, the organizations that support them, and the public-health officials who are on the front lines of managing this public-health crisis,” the filing reads. “Because the Rule has deterred noncitizens and their family members from seeking necessary medical care, it will be more difficult to contain the effects and spread of this dangerous illness.”

The attorneys asked the court to hold arguments as scheduled on March 18, adding they “welcome any means of facilitating oral argument on the original date, including telephonic or video-conference oral argument or in-person oral argument before a different panel.”

On Friday, the court denied the motion. And shortly afterward, the court posted the notice on the postponement of oral arguments.


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