SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court took precautions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, keeping the general public out of the courthouse as it held arguments.
Two oral arguments Tuesday went ahead as scheduled, but in-person courthouse attendance was limited to the justices and the parties to each case.
Oral arguments also took place today, with two cases before the court and only essential personnel present.
Video of this week’s arguments has been livestreamed on the court’s website. In normal times, the court uploads video and audio of arguments after they’re done.
Supreme Court spokesman Chris Bonjean said the court’s decision was consistent with the guidance from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Monday recommended gatherings be limited to 10 people.
The court on Tuesday issued an order, applying to all state courts, allowing essential court matters to be conducted by video or telephone when possible, and allowing continuances for nonessential matters.
The order also allows courts to implement temporary reductions in courthouse staffing while maintaining core functions, and extends deadlines in criminal and civil cases. In addition, it prohibits people from entering courthouses if they test positive for COVID-19 or been in contact with anyone who has, been in high risk locations for transmission of COVID-19, or been in contact with anyone who has visited those areas.
The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision to limit the building’s access reflects responses to COVID-19 from courts across the state.
In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would indefinitely delay oral arguments scheduled between March 23 and April 1.
John Lupton, executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission, said he isn’t aware of another time in the Illinois high court’s history when the court was closed to the general public and nonessential personnel.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 remains one of the deadliest outbreaks in world history. Also known as the Spanish flu, the 1918 pandemic killed between 1% and 3% of the world’s population.
Lupton said he couldn’t find any evidence the Supreme Court building took different measures during the pandemic in 1918.
However, the Illinois State Journal newspaper in October 1918 reported that the nearby county courthouse was sterilized as a precaution.