The Supreme Judicial Court hears oral arguments the first full week of every month from September through May. Oral arguments are public proceedings. All arguments are streamed live online and are archived for later public viewing. Court sessions are held in Courtroom 1 (Seven Justice Courtroom) on the second floor of the John Adams Courthouse and are open to the public. Sessions begin promptly at 9:00 a.m. and end at approximately 1:00 p.m. Oral arguments for each case generally take about 30 minutes (15 minutes per side).
Approximately 25 cases are considered each month. The court calendar is posted online every month.
Cases are generally called in the order in which they are listed on the sheet posted outside the courtroom. If you are interested in viewing a particular case, you may contact the Clerk for the Commonwealth to determine approximately when it will be heard.
Viewing oral arguments in the courtroom and online
While all oral arguments are open to the public, seating is limited and on a first-come, first-seated basis. Standing is not allowed. If the courtroom is full, the court will make an effort to provide a live broadcast of oral arguments in a nearby courtroom. Visitors should be aware that some cases may attract large crowds and should plan ahead.
Attorneys may sit in front of the railing in the courtroom; all other interested parties may sit on the benches provided in the main gallery behind the railing or in the galleries on either side of the entrances to the courtroom. If you have any questions regarding where to sit, please check with one of the uniformed court officers.
Food and beverages are not allowed in courtrooms. Cell phones and other electronic devices must be turned off before you enter the courtroom. Cameras, recording devices, and laptops or tablets are not allowed to be used in the courtroom during proceedings, with the exception of registered members of the news media. Registered news media must read and follow the protocol for electronic access to the Seven Justice Courtroom before recording or photographing in the session.
Anyone unable to attend a court session, but who would like to watch oral arguments, can watch oral arguments online on a website maintained and hosted through a partnership with Suffolk University Law School.
The court session
At 9:00 a.m., the court is called to order by a court officer. The Justices enter the courtroom and are seated in order of seniority with the Chief Justice seated in the center. The Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court sits to the lower left of the bench and is responsible for providing the Justices with materials about the cases, ensuring that attorneys scheduled to argue cases are signed in and present in the courtroom, timing the oral presentations, and recording the arguments. The court officers, in addition to calling the court to order, maintain decorum in the courtroom and assist in seating of counsel and spectators.
The counsel table for the appellant is on the left when facing the bench; counsel table for the appellee is on the right. After the clerk calls the case, the counsel for the appellant argues first. Each side is allowed fifteen minutes for argument. No rebuttal time is allowed.
The clerk times the arguments. The timer is equipped with three lights: green for the first fourteen minutes of the argument; yellow indicating one minute remains; and red signifying the end of allotted time.
Often, during arguments, the Justices ask questions of counsel regarding specific issues raised in the briefs that have been filed.
Written opinions (decisions)
The Justices issue written opinions (decisions) generally within 130 days following oral arguments. Court opinions are available online after 10:00 a.m. on the day the opinion is issued, and can be accessed on the Office of the Reporter of Decisions new published opinions page. Notice of the day's published opinions is also tweeted by the Office of the Reporter of Decisions from its Twitter account @MassReports. Parties who would like email notification of published opinions can register for a free email notification service. Registrants for the email service can choose one or more topics of interest, and will receive an email each day that an opinion is released on those selected topics. The email will contain a link to the slip opinion.
Single Justice sessions
The Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, also known as the Single Justice Session, is that part of the court's business in which an associate justice essentially acts as a trial judge. Generally, the Single Justice hearings are held in Courtroom 2 on the second floor of the John Adams Courthouse, every Wednesday beginning at 9:30 a.m. Check the Single Justice Calendar online for specific dates.