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Despite hurricane, the Supreme Court opens as scheduled

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 1:17 PM EDT, Mon October 29, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Court cancels public session for Tuesday "due to weather conditions"
  • Oral arguments in two cases proceed as scheduled
  • Court schedules are set months in advance
  • The court has a history of remaining open during bad weather

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court opened on time Monday, despite the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the Washington area.

Public sessions were to open as scheduled for two important hourlong oral arguments, according to court officials.

One of the cases involved a privacy challenge to the government's secret domestic surveillance program, and the other examined whether copyright protections extend to books and other "intellectual property" produced overseas and then sold in the United States.

In addition, the court released a summary of its pending business, such as appeals it will consider or has rejected.

It will be "business as usual" Monday, said Kathy Arberg, the court's public information officer. Officials "will continue to monitor the situation," she added.

Later Monday, the court canceled its public session for Tuesday "due to weather conditions related to Hurricane Sandy," it said. Oral arguments scheduled for that day have been rescheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m.

Chief Justice John Roberts makes the ultimate call on whether to close and has consulted senior court staff.

As an independent branch of government, the Supreme Court has wide discretion about its schedule. The rest of the federal government in the nation's capital was preemptively closed Monday, although key essential personnel were required to show up to work.

Oral arguments are scheduled months in advance, and canceling or delaying them would create logistical and workload hassles for the high court and attorneys who argue before it.

The court has a history of staying open despite inclement weather. The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was known for ordering the court's 300-plus staff to work during snowstorms and other bad weather that paralyzed the rest of the city.

During a major snowstorm in 1996, Rehnquist, a Wisconsin native, sent four-wheel-drive vehicles to pick up several justices from their homes. Justice David Souter insisted on driving himself and was slightly late to the day's oral arguments, while Justice John Paul Stevens was stuck in Florida and never made it to work that day.

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