The Supreme Court justices returned to in-person oral arguments Monday in a day crammed with large questions on how the upcoming time period will work, the instances in entrance of the justices and the way forward for the courtroom. 

When Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled within the new time period at 10 a.m., it marked the primary time that the justices have been in the identical room to listen to a case in over a year-and-a-half. Justice Amy Coney Barrett was on the bench for the primary time since she was confirmed final yr. And Justice Brett Kavanaugh is absent after a constructive COVID-19 take a look at final week. 

One of the most important unknowns concerning the upcoming time period was whether or not Justice Clarence Thomas would cease being an lively participant in oral arguments as was the case earlier than the pandemic. The justice made clear his distaste for the freewheeling argument format the courtroom used earlier than the pandemic, which it’s largely returning to now that the justices are again in individual. 

But Thomas on Monday was the primary justice to ask inquiries to a lawyer from Mississippi who argued that Tennessee is basically stealing groundwater from Mississippi. He challenged the lawyer over the actual fact Tennessee’s pumps don’t technically cross the border, however as an alternative draw water from an aquifer that flows between the 2 states. 

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas attends the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett to be the U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice on the South Lawn of the White House October 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Barrett will be hearing her first in-peron case as a Supreme Court justice Monday, while Thomas will be closely watched for how he handles questioning. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas attends the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett to be the U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice on the South Lawn of the White House October 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Barrett will likely be listening to her first in-peron case as a Supreme Court justice Monday, whereas Thomas will likely be carefully watched for a way he handles questioning. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

If the case was a couple of lake on the border between the states, Thomas requested, “Couldn’t you argue that it was technically drawing water from Mississippi,” primarily based on Mississippi’s logic?  

The different justices started to leap in quickly after Thomas completed his questioning. 

The courtroom went to a extra structured type of argument in the course of the pandemic to forestall confusion throughout teleconferences. But steerage lately issued informed attorneys to organize for a flurry of questions from justices and even cases wherein the justices would possibly “ask questions before you complete your answer to the first Justice.” 

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Lawyers could have two minutes on the prime of their arguments to make their factors uninterrupted earlier than the free-for-all interval begins. But, the steerage provides, “Once an attorney’s time has expired, each Justice will have the opportunity to question that attorney individually.” 

The hybrid format may current some challenges with Kavanaugh working remotely as a result of he has COVID-19. 

“I doubt they’ll change the format at the stage, after having clearly put thought into the structure they want,” Cato Institute Director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies Ilya Shapiro mentioned. “It could be that Justice Kavanaugh will signal Chief Justice Roberts if he wants to get into the scrum, or will just shout into his speaker phone!” 

In this April 23, 2021, file photo members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington. Seated from left are Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Standing from left are Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Kavanaugh will be missing from the courtroom Monday due to a COVID-19 diagnosis. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool, File

In this April 23, 2021, file photograph members of the Supreme Court pose for a gaggle photograph on the Supreme Court in Washington. Seated from left are Associate Justice Samuel Alito, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Standing from left are Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Kavanaugh will likely be lacking from the courtroom Monday resulting from a COVID-19 prognosis. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times through AP, Pool, File
(Erin Schaff/The New York Times through AP, Pool)

While the instances to begin the time period Monday aren’t essentially the most thrilling – a groundwater dispute and a query concerning the definition of a phrase in a prison statute – the justices face what Shapiro says may a blockbuster time period. 

There’s a significant gun rights case from New York, a second high-profile faculty selection in three years, and an abortion case out of Mississippi that has the possibility to overturn Roe v. Wade, relying on how the justices rule. 

And all of this will likely be taking place towards the backdrop of calls from progressives for Justice Stephen Breyer to retire, court-packing grumblings from the left, the forthcoming report from President Biden’s fee on the courtroom, and the potential that the Senate may change arms within the 2022 midterms. 

“This promises to be a bigger term than we’ve had the last few years,” Shapiro mentioned. “Buckle up.”

Fox News’ Bill Mears and Shannon Bream contributed to this report.