The pandemic has forced even the most technophobic online. After refusing for years, the Supreme Court is now hearing oral arguments over the phone and live streaming them, an initiative that — aside from the awkwardness that comes with conference calls — seems to be going well. On May 12, the public was able to tune in to hear arguments about whether or not the president's tax returns should be released.
Advocates for online courts cite low costs and efficiency. But in some cases, online courts can prove less fair than the courthouses people have historically visited in person. Public defenders say that they can't do their jobs online, and not all of their clients even have internet access, let alone a smartphone. Some research suggests that at hearings conducted by video, asylum applicants are twice as likely to be denied asylum and defendants are more likely to be deported.
Douglas Keith is counsel in the Democracy Program at The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. Keith says that if online courts are the future of justice, we need to set better guidelines to make sure they're fair.