Judiciary Preparedness for Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Note: Visit a new page Coronavirus (COVID-19): Response and Recovery for the latest information on the Judiciary's response. This page will no longer be updated.
Federal courts are individually coordinating with state and local health officials to obtain local information about the coronavirus (COVID-19), and some have issued orders relating to court business, operating status, and public and employee safety.
- View a list of links to all federal court websites and links to court orders, court operations, and other information.
June 3, 2020
With no end in sight for the pandemic in some parts of the country, federal courts are increasingly requiring people entering courthouses to wear face masks. In a typical order governing mask-wearing, the District of Alaska is now requiring people to wear a “face covering or mask at all times while occupying public spaces or common areas...” People with medical conditions that prevent the wearing of face coverings can request an exemption.
May 27, 2020
In-person court proceedings will expand beginning June 11, according to an order issued May 26 by the Eastern District of Virginia.
Under a “phased expansion of operations,” the order said, “in-person proceedings will no longer be strictly limited to critical or emergency proceedings.” Specifically, bench trials for criminal and civil proceedings will resume, along with trials of misdemeanors, traffic, and petty offenses.
The court will continue to rely heavily on video and teleconference proceedings, the order noted. Masks will be required in all public areas of the courthouse, including all courtrooms, and “social distancing of at least six feet shall be maintained whenever possible.”
May 19, 2020
As the COVID-19 crisis shows little sign of abating in the nation’s capital, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has suspended in-person oral arguments indefinitely.
Oral arguments will continue to be held by teleconference while in-person arguments “have been suspended until further notice,” the court said in a May 18 order, noting that the change would provide greater predictability for the parties in cases. Under previous orders, the court had suspended in-person arguments on a month-to-month basis.
May 11, 2020
Last week, the Northern District of Alabama last week permitted judges to resume conducting in-person hearings and conferences, beginning a process of restoration of courthouse operations that had been interrupted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency.
According to a May 4 order, many proceedings will continue to rely on teleconference and video conference. “The district and magistrate judges shall individually determine when it is appropriate to conduct such in-person hearings on a case-by-case,” the order read. “Each judge should be mindful of the health and safety of all participants in any such hearing.”
As outlined in guidelines issued April 27 by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, district and appeals courts should decide how and when to restore courthouse operations, based largely on local conditions.
The District of Rhode Island extended its postponement of jury and grand jury proceedings through the end of June, in a May 6 order. And in an April 29 letter to bar members posted on the court’s website, the district's judges suggested that a return to normal operations may take an extended period of time.
“When we do open the Courthouses–even for a limited amount of business—we must be sensitive to the need for continued social distancing and work practices that will reduce the potential for exposure to the virus for all our stakeholders,” the judges wrote. “This may entail repurposing our facilities, restructuring the responsibilities, work hours and workdays of our employees, and rethinking how we perform the basic functions of the Court. This will take some time and creative thinking.”
May 5, 2020
Federal courts in several states are grappling with the problem of forming grand juries during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Grand juries necessarily bring people into close proximity and, at the same time, are subject to legally mandated time limits.
The Western District of Pennsylvania has dealt with the issue through a series of court orders that temporarily suspend grand juries and “stop the clock” on the time limits until the crisis subsides. For example, the court’s most recent order suspends grand jury sessions until May 15 and says that “the time from May 12, 2020 to the earlier of May 26, 2020 or the date the grand jury convenes, is excludable time in terms of calculating the thirty-day period by which (under law) an indictment must be filed after an arrest on a complaint.”
The court noted that protecting health and safety “materially outweigh” the defendant’s and the public’s interest in a speedy trial.
April 27, 2020
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which has been closed to the general public since March 13, has issued a new order mandating protective masks for all visitors in the courthouse’s public or common areas.
Under the April 27 order, signed by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, all courthouse visitors, including vendors, contractors, litigants, and attorneys and other members of the public, “shall be required to wear a mask or face covering for their nose and mouth continuously during their visit to public or common areas of the courthouse.”
Court staff are being asked to cover their faces while in common areas, and also in non-public work areas, unless they can maintain a six-foot distance from other people.
April 24, 2020
The Potter Stewart Courthouse in Cincinnati was closed this week after a security officer at the building tested positive for COVID-19. Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley, of the Southern District of Ohio, ordered the federal courthouse closed indefinitely after a Federal Protective Service officer fell ill and was then diagnosed with the virus. The officer had responsibilities throughout the courthouse.
The order directs the clerk of court to work with the General Services Administration and other federal agencies with operations in the building to consider future steps, including determining when it is safe to reoccupy the building.
April 23, 2020
Bankruptcy courts around the country are moving quickly to adopt temporary rules that will provide relief for consumer debtors and small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. The interim changes are a response to the passage of the CARES Act, a massive economic relief package passed by Congress and signed into law by the president on March 27.
The act modified the definitions of “current monthly income” and “disposable income” in consumer bankruptcy cases to exclude emergency payments the federal government is sending Americans to help counter the adverse economic impact of the pandemic. The legislation also allows Chapter 13 debtors to request modifications of their repayment plans if they’ve experienced financial hardship because of the coronavirus crisis, including extending payments over longer periods of time. Small businesses with debts of up to $7.5 million now can qualify for a specialized form of bankruptcy relief that allows them to reorganize more quickly and less expensively; the previous threshold was $2.7 million in debts. The higher threshold expires in one year.
April 22, 2020 Update
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will provide live audio access to its oral arguments during the court’s May session. The court said in a public advisory that the service was being provided because of “continued public health restrictions and limits on public access to the courthouse” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public access information for the live audio stream will be available on the court’s website at 9 a.m. each day arguments are held. At the end of each day’s arguments, audio recordings will be available on the website as well. Media inquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 20, 2020 Update
The District of New Jersey, harshly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19), has issued multiple orders regarding a variety of legal issues.
On Friday, the district required that all emergency petitions by immigrants in detention be filed individually, citing the highly distinct specifics of each case. Last week, the court postponed all jury trials scheduled before May 31, and directed the Office of the Federal Public Defender to handle all petitions from detainees and inmates seeking emergency release from confinement.
New Jersey is one of about a dozen federal district courts, since last Thursday, to extend previous postponements of jury trials and other proceedings. All of the courts are continuing to hold many procedural hearings by teleconference or videoconference.
April 16, 2020 Update
The Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been ordered closed for two days, to undergo a cleaning and disinfection after a courthouse visitor recently tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).
Several staff members who were “in the same area” as the visitor have been asked to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precautionary measure, the court said. An online statement by the District of New Mexico said there was no indication that any staff had been in close contact with the visitor.
The courthouse, which will reopen next week, has been operating with minimal staff since March 16, when employees were authorized to telework. The courthouse was closed to the public on April 1. Only limited staff and individuals with official business have been permitted entry since then.
April 15, 2020 Update
In recent days, six more district courts have extended emergency orders postponing in-person court proceedings in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The original orders were nearing expiration.
The courts include the District of Guam, which postponed in-person proceedings until after May 5; the Southern District of Indiana, which postponed proceedings through May 29; the District of Nebraska and the District of New Hampshire, which postponed proceedings scheduled through June 1; the District of South Carolina, which postponed proceedings through July 5; and the Western District of Washington, which canceled in-person proceedings through July 1.
All of the courts are continuing to hold many procedural hearings by teleconference or videoconference.
April 14, 2020 Update
Two U.S. courts of appeals have canceled additional oral arguments in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals "suspended" arguments scheduled for the week of May 5-8. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals canceled oral arguments scheduled for the weeks of April 27 and May 4. Both courts had previously canceled some scheduled arguments.
A Fourth Circuit order said, “Although the pressures of the public health crisis preventing in-person argument in March, April, and May 2020 have occasioned a temporary change in the court’s practices, the court is nonetheless affording these cases equal jurisprudential rigor and attention.”
A Sixth Circuit order said, “The court will reschedule some arguments to be heard remotely. All remote arguments will be recorded and posted to the Court’s website on the same day the arguments are held.”
April 13, 2020 Update
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency continues, numerous courts are extending building closures, postponements of scheduled jury trials, and deferring of deadlines under the Speedy Trial Act. Many orders, originally scheduled to expire in April, now will continue into the late spring and summer months.
The Eastern District of California sought permission from the Ninth Circuit Judicial Council to suspend procedural deadlines under the Speed Trial Act for up to a year. An April 8 letter from Chief Judge Kimberly J. Mueller noted that the court already had been struggling to manage a heavy caseload with only six authorized judgeships. She said 52 trials have been continued since mid-March.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated our pre-existing emergency such that there simply are no other options for alleviating our calendar congestion,” Mueller wrote, “despite the many steps we have been taking to manage the current crisis since its onset.”
Other courts issuing orders in the last week to extend building closures, postponements of pending cases, or postponements of grand jury proceedings, include: the Northern District of Indiana, Southern District of Iowa, District of Kansas, District of Maryland, Western District of Michigan, District of Montana, District of Nevada, Oregon, Eastern and Middle Districts of Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and the Eastern District of Virginia.
April 10, 2020 Update
In one of the many orders issued by federal courts in recent weeks, the chief judge of the Western District of Virginia suspended criminal trials until May 1 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An April 8 order by Chief Judge Michael F. Urbanski takes pains to explain how judges are balancing the constitutional rights of the accused with the imperative of keeping people out of harm’s way.
In several paragraphs explaining the court’s reasoning, Urbanski wrote that “criminal trials inherently involve a significant amount of close contact between all parties.” The current threat to public health, he said, prevents the court from convening counsel, court staff, United States Marshals, interpreters, court security officers, probation officers, witnesses, and other participants who are necessary in criminal proceedings.
And, as a result of health recommendations by federal health officials and a shelter-in-place order by Gov. Ralph Northam, Urbanski wrote, “the court’s ability to obtain an adequate spectrum of jurors has been rendered impossible.”
“… Accordingly, the court finds that the ends of justice served by continuing all criminal trials through May 1, 2020 outweigh the interest of the parties and the public in a speedy trial.”
April 7, 2020 Update
The District of Southern Florida, where Miami-Dade leads the state in COVID-19 infections at roughly 5,000 confirmed cases, has postponed all scheduled jury trials until July 6 and cautioned there may be “future continuances as necessary and appropriate” before the crisis abates.
Chief Judge K. Michael Moore said in an April 3 order that while some proceedings will go forward, “judges are strongly encouraged to conduct proceedings by telephone or video conference where practicable.” All grand jury sessions in the district were also continued until July 6. The district includes courts in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce, and Key West.
Statewide, Florida had more than 14,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 7, according to the state’s health department.
The Middle District of Alabama issued an April 5 order supporting teleconferencing and video conferencing of court proceedings that provide access for the public and the media. The order provides links and web addresses for people who want to listen or observe, along with a reminder “of prohibitions regarding photographing, recording, and broadcasting of court proceedings.”
April 6, 2020 Update
Citing the continuing threat from the coronavirus COVID-19, the Southern District of Ohio has postponed all civil and criminal trials scheduled to start on or before June 1, extending an order that otherwise would have expired in early April.
The new order, which applies to both jury and non-jury trials, postponed all affected proceedings for 60 days. Many procedural hearings will continue to be heard by videoconference or teleconference.
April 1, 2020 Update
More than a dozen federal courts issued orders authorizing video and teleconferencing technology for preliminary criminal and civil hearings. Broader use of such technology was authorized by the recently passed CARES Act.
The Eastern District of Virginia closed its Newport News courthouse indefinitely, ordering that it undergo a deep cleaning and be kept in reserve as a “judicial emergency center.”
The courthouse will be “sanitized and preserved for safe use, in order to serve as a ‘last resort’ location for court proceedings,” the order said. It added that the courthouse would be used during the crisis “if, and only if, all other courthouses (Alexandria, Norfolk, and Richmond) are rendered unusable at the same time.”
March 31, 2020 Update
Federal courts across the country have begun issuing orders to allow teleconferencing and videoconferencing of certain criminal proceedings after the Judicial Conference and Congress recently authorized their use for the duration of the COVID-19 public health crisis in the United States.
Typical of the orders by chief judges is the one from the District of New Hampshire that lists the proceedings where electronic methods will be used, including detention hearings, arraignments, supervised release revocation hearings, and misdemeanor pleas and sentencings. The order stipulates that the defendant must consent to video or telephone conferencing in lieu of a courtroom appearance.
In order to address health and safety concerns in federal courthouses and courtrooms, the Judicial Conference approved the temporary use of video and teleconferencing for certain criminal proceedings and teleconferencing of civil proceedings during the COVID-19 national emergency. Last week, Congress approved enabling legislation as part of the $2 trillion economic rescue package.
The legislation provides that the authorization of video and telephone conferencing will end 30 days after the date on which the national emergency ends or the date when the Judicial Conference finds that the federal courts are no longer materially affected, whichever is earlier.
March 30, 2020 Update
Citing Illinois’ stay-at-home order and the recent passage of legislation enabling electronic court procedures, the chief judge of the Southern District of Illinois authorized the use of teleconferencing and videoconferencing for several types of criminal procedures. Audio and visual feeds of the proceedings will be available to the press and the public “to the extent practicable,” wrote Chief Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in her March 30 order. The temporary lifting of restrictions on electronic court proceedings was included in the $2 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress last week.
The U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan said in a news release that two court security officers at the Detroit-based courthouse have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Ten others have exhibited symptoms and four have been hospitalized. The officers were in the building between March 12 and March 21. The building was closed on March 24 for disinfecting and the entire court staff was sent home. The courthouse remains closed indefinitely and most employees are working remotely.
Several federal employees who work in the Martin Luther King and Frank R. Lautenberg U.S. Courthouses in Newark, New Jersey, also have tested positive for COVID-19. Chief Judge Freda L. Wolfson ordered the closing of the courthouses until April 6. The chief judge’s March 26 order did not affect two courthouses in Trenton and Camden. Earlier, all criminal and civil trials in the District Court of New Jersey were postponed until May.
March 27, 2020 Update
As stay-at-home orders by local governments began to take hold in central Florida, the Middle District of Florida announced a halt to all jury trials scheduled to begin before June 30. The U.S. courthouse in Orlando remained open, subject to limitations, but judges were “strongly encouraged” to conduct any urgent court proceedings by telephone or videoconference.
In the Southern District of Ohio, Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley issued an order noting that the limits the court has placed on proceedings during the pandemic were becoming a financial hardship for attorneys appointed by the court to represent indigent criminal defendants. The March 25 order allows the defense attorneys to file interim vouchers for payment rather than waiting until the disposition of their cases as they normally do.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, meanwhile, suspended mail operations and extended deadlines for 30 days for defendants representing themselves in various criminal matters.
March 26, 2020 Update
Warning that many judges and court security officers are at high risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) because of their ages, the District of Maine ordered that procedural hearings in criminal cases be held by teleconference.
“Telephonic hearings substantially reduce the threat of exposing those who participate in hearings to COVID-19,” said a March 25 order signed by Chief Judge Jon D. Levy. Victims and media will be given access to the telephone proceedings, which “will also be open to members of the public if determined to be reasonably possible,” the order said.
The Western District of Pennsylvania directed all detention facilities to screen detainees for potential coronavirus symptoms before transporting them to the federal court for any in-person hearings required by law. Detainees who fail any of several health criteria are to be kept at the facility, and the court is to be notified, the order said.
The Northern District of California, where a region-wide “shelter in place” order has been issued, has consolidated all in-person court proceedings in the district’s San Francisco courthouse. “The Oakland, San Jose, and Eureka/McKinleyville Courthouses will be closed entirely to the public” until April 7, the order said.
March 25, 2020 Update
The federal courthouse in Pocatello, Idaho, was ordered closed for two weeks, after “a person working in the courthouse tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus after recent travel.” The individual is in self-quarantine.
The Northern District of Ohio is closing five federal courthouses until May 1. All jury trials are postponed, and “initial appearances, arraignments, and detention hearings will proceed and will be conducted by telephone or videoconference where practicable.”
The Western District of Virginia postponed all in-person hearings until May 1, and instructed judges to conduct criminal, civil, and bankruptcy proceedings by video or teleconferencing.
A growing number of bankruptcy courts have reduced in-person meetings by postponing hearings in which bankruptcy filers face their creditors. Other courts, including the District of Connecticut, are permitting parties to file electronic signatures to ease the finalization of documents.
March 24, 2020 Update
Citing the lack of adequate testing available to know the full extent of the spread of COVID-19, the chief judge for the Southern District of West Virginia has ordered the closing of all courthouses in the district and a postponement of most civil and criminal proceedings.
West Virginia was the one of the last states to report confirmed cases of the respiratory disease, and its courts are now experiencing the same types of threats as those in other states. Chief Judge Thomas E. Johnston wrote in a March 23 order, “There is understandable concern that inadequate testing available at this time to monitor the transmission of the disease makes it likely that the disease is substantially more widespread than it appears. Moreover, West Virginia has a relatively high elderly population and greater incidence of other medical conditions that can make individuals more vulnerable to the virus.”
In other recent developments, the District of Northern California closed the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building in San Jose to both the public and staff after discovering that a person who visited the courthouse on three occasions in mid-March was subsequently treated for COVID-19. The district, located in one of the epicenters of the pandemic in the United States, earlier this month closed all its courthouses to the public until May 1, although some proceedings are being conducted. The San Jose courthouse is closed to both the public and staff until April 7.
In Hawaii, the district court is closed to the public until May 3, but like many other federal courts, it also is making accommodations to ensure continued media and public access to court proceedings. “Civil and criminal hearings will be conducted on a toll-free teleconference line, and that teleconference line will be available to members of the public and the media, to the extent practicable,” wrote Chief Judge Michael Seabright in a March 23 order. “Dial-in information will be available on each case’s individual docket on PACER, and further instructions can be found on the court’s website.”
March 23, 2020 Update
The federal courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts was ordered closed until further notice, after a court employee exhibited “symptoms consistent with COVID-19.” The district is working to maintain court operations during the building closure.
A growing number of courts are conducting most or all proceedings through electronic means, such as video conferences and telephone conference calls.
The District of Nevada said it is “striving to eliminate in-person court appearances.” A March 19 order said, “In the event that a hearing must go forward, the Court will attempt to conduct the hearing by video conference or telephone (with the defendant’s consent in criminal cases), and the courtroom will be closed. Members of the public may call in to listen to a scheduled hearing on the phone line provided for each hearing.”
March 20, 2020 Update
James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, urged courts to enact several measures to protected public safety. “I strongly urge all of you to exercise flexibility and compassion in accommodating staff needs,” he wrote.
The March 19 guidance specifically recommended the following:
- Permit as many employees as is practicable to telework.
- Postpone all courthouse proceedings with more than 10 people, such as naturalization ceremonies.
- Conduct in-person court proceedings only when absolutely necessary. Utilize videoconferencing or audioconferencing capabilities where practicable.
- Conduct jury proceedings only in exceptional circumstances.
- Limit the number of family members who attend proceedings.
- Stagger scheduling of critical court proceedings to reduce the number of people in seating galleries, wells of courtrooms, conference rooms, and public waiting areas; and
- Limit staff at critical courtroom proceedings to fewer than 10 people, and ensure that they are at least six feet apart.
In other developments, two courthouses were closed after it was confirmed that someone in the courthouse had contracted the virus.
The Middle District of Pennsylvania closed the Harrisburg courthouse “until further notice.” According to a March 18 order, “a federal law enforcement agent resident in the Harrisburg Courthouse has tested positive for COVID-19 and that several other individuals who were exposed to this agent are exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19.”
The District of Delaware has closed its space, also “until further notice,” in the J. Caleb Boggs U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building in Wilmington. According to a March 19 order, an attorney who appeared before the court was diagnosed as having coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Northern District of California announced free public access to media and public for teleconference audio of civil hearings. Media and public also will be permitted to attend criminal proceedings.
March 19, 2020 Update
The District of Maryland has temporarily suspended all in-court proceedings in the Southern Division courthouse in Greenbelt, and moved all emergency criminal, civil, and bankruptcy matters related to public safety, public health and welfare, and individual liberty to the Northern Division courthouse in Baltimore. The order by Chief Judge James K. Bredar said that “consolidating court operations in one division will conserve scarce court and court-related agency resources, reduce the number of staff required to enter courthouses in this district, and allow for more effective, focused, and efficient health screening measures.”
March 18, 2020 Update
The federal courthouse in Rome, Georgia has been closed to the public after an employee fell ill with symptoms that suggest the possibility of COVID-19. Judge Harold L. Murphy, of the Northern District of Georgia, ordered the Rome courthouse closed until further notice to ensure, “to the extent possible, the health and safety of judges, court, and agency staff, and members of the public.”
March 17, 2020 Update
The Northern District of California has closed four federal courthouses to the public until May 1, under a March 16 order signed by Chief Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton. It was the first mass closing of federal courthouses since the Judiciary began its response to the coronavirus COVID-19 emergency.
Courthouses were closed at the following locations:
- Phillip Burton Federal Building, San Francisco;
- Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building, Oakland;
- Robert F. Peckham Federal Building, San Jose; and
- The U.S. Courthouse in McKinleyville.
Nationally, the federal Judiciary is working together and closely with a number of federal agencies to monitor and share information.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) organized a task force, which includes representatives from the General Services Administrative, the U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Occupational Health, and other federal partners as a single point of contact to share information and guidance related to the coronavirus outbreak as it relates to the Judiciary. The AO is also providing courts, probation and pretrial offices, and defender services organizations with human resources, budget, and other guidance and continual updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please note the following changes to other Judiciary programs:
- Federal Judicial Center - All educational programs canceled through May 31, 2020.
- Federal Court Interpreter Program - Written exam registration postponed.
Find the latest on COVID-19 and preventative measures to take from the CDC.