Supreme Courtroom Arguments: A Week 1 Quantitative Recap

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Every week in the past, the Supreme Courtroom heard oral arguments in 5 instances.

These instances ranged from coping with land and water disputes to condemn enhancements, from the admission of trial courtroom proof to state-secret privileges.

Tons might be made from the phrases the justices and attorneys mentioned in oral argument.

What just isn’t as apparent is that quantitative strategies can present further context to assist perceive the justices’ engagement in oral argument, and the way they might vote on the deserves.  

Mississippi v. Tennessee

The Courtroom started with arguments in Mississippi v. Tennessee with opening remarks from the petitioner’s lawyer John Coghlan. Then Justice Thomas opened the questioning by asking, “Effectively, counsel, you appear to complain about Tennessee pumping water from Mississippi, however you admit that Tennessee doesn’t enter throughout the border into Mississippi, isn’t that right?”  Justice Thomas didn’t let Mr. Coghlan end answering the query earlier than posing his subsequent query: “Okay. So — however the case that you just cite as an intrusion from — I believe it’s Tarrant or Tarrant — wasn’t {that a} cross-border state of affairs?” The sequence of speaking throughout petitioner’s argument seems as follows.

We are able to see Justice Thomas’s intently interspersed questions initially of oral argument with the brief intervals between Justice Thomas’s questions and Mr. Coghlan’s replies.  A number of justices spoke in two intervals throughout Mr. Coghlan’s argument together with Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Kagan, and Justice Kavanaugh.

Through the respondent’s arguments, Justices Kagan, Gorsuch, and Roberts seem like essentially the most lively members.


One technique social scientists use to find out how a justice would possibly vote in a case is by which social gathering they spoke with extra, with the instinct they are going to communicate extra to a celebration they intend to vote in opposition to. This isn’t a precise science by any means however is a great tool in early prediction evaluation.

The talking breakdown exhibiting whether or not the justices spoke extra through the petitioner or respondent’s argument is proven under.


The justices with distinguished phrase depend variations (>50 phrases) embrace Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh through the respondent’s argument and Justices Thomas, Roberts, and Sotomayor through the petitioner’s argument. 

Wood v. United States

The justices might construct on the solutions given by attorneys to prior questions. That is obvious with Justice Kagan’s early remarks in Wood when she requested, “However, Mr. Kedem, you answered Justice Thomas first by saying it’s not solely and even primarily a matter of time, after which, inside two sentences, you mentioned the query is whether or not there’s a steady stream of exercise, which does appear to be it’s a matter of time. So isn’t it at the least primarily a matter of time?” Justice Kagan constructed on Justice Thomas’s earlier level by then interceding, “I believe what Justice Thomas might need been responding to is only a feeling that it is a very loosey-goosey check, , that it’s an all issues thought-about, totality of the circumstances.”

The order of talking in Wood seem like this through the petitioner’s argument.


Justice Alito was fairly concerned, as had been Justices Kagan, Barrett, and Breyer. Justice Alito particularly jumps into this argument sooner than he did within the arguments within the prior case.

The talking sequence for the respondent’s argument seems as follows.

Justice Alito seems much less concerned in these arguments whereas Justices Kagan and Gorsuch appear to take part essentially the most. The graph of relative phrases spoken shades mild on hypotheses generated from the talking sequence charts.

Right here we see that Justices Gorsuch, Breyer, and Kavanaugh spoke comparatively extra throughout respondent’s argument whereas Justices Alito, Thomas, and Barrett participated extra throughout petitioner’s argument. 

To dig a bit deeper, the subsequent chart exhibits a warmth map of the forms of questions the justices requested through the entirety of arguments in Wood.

This exhibits that Justices Gorsuch and Kagan requested extra questions of the different sorts than the remainder of the justices but in addition that the justices tended to make use of totally different rhetorical gadgets of their questions from each other. 

Brown v. Davenport

The arguments in Brown featured two feminine attorneys which is a rarity earlier than the Supreme Courtroom. Wanting first on the talking sequence through the petitioner’s argument we see that a number of justices took up more often than not. Wanting first on the talking sequence through the petitioner’s argument we see that a number of justices took up more often than not.

Justices closely engaged throughout petitioner’s argument embrace Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer. This distinction between the justices exhibits that there could also be an ideological break up on this case which might be made clearer when trying on the differential phrase counts.

The talking sequence for respondent’s argument is proven under.

Justices Alito and Barrett seem way more engaged throughout respondent’s argument. Justice Kagan is earlier out of the gates in respondent’s argument than she was through the petitioner’s argument.

The phrase differentials assist paint a fuller image of the differential in justice participation between the 2 sides’ arguments.

This exhibits the potential for an ideological break up with Justices Alito, Barrett, Kavanaugh, Roberts, and Thomas talking extra through the respondent’s argument and Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor extra lively throughout petitioner’s argument.

Hemphill v. New York

Through the petitioner’s argument in Hemphill we see extra prolonged engagements by Justices Alito and Breyer

Justice Sotomayor, nevertheless, grills petitioner’s lawyer Jeffrey Fisher within the following sequence:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Mr. Fisher, beneath what concept would Reid be constitutional? I believed Reid mainly mentioned you’ll be able to open the door to testimonial rumour. So isn’t your — why was your argument as utilized? When wouldn’t it ever work – 

  1. FISHER: Effectively, I — I – 

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: — beneath your concept? 

  1. FISHER: — I don’t suppose it could ever work, Justice Sotomayor. And we’ve made that clear – 


  1. FISHER: — in our briefing too, however – 

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: — Justice Thomas’s query. Why didn’t you simply say Reid is unconstitutional?

Justice Sotomayor participates at a larger charge throughout respondent’s argument as does Justice Gorsuch

The phrase depend differential in these arguments seems as follows.

Justices Thomas, Alito, Breyer, and Kavanaugh spoke way more throughout petitioner’s argument whereas Justices Gorsuch, Kagan, and Sotomayor had been noticeably extra lively throughout respondent’s argument.

United States v. Zubaydah

Not like a number of the different arguments, a number of justices spoke greater than as soon as throughout petitioner’s argument in Zubaydah.

Justice Kagan has prolonged remarks starting, “Effectively, on this subject of the suitable degree of deference, I imply, the query is — or one query is, what’s the deference to?” Nearly all of web page 8 of the oral argument transcript is dedicated to Justice Kagan’s questions.  Equally, Justice Sotomayor takes up virtually all of web page 10 of the transcripts along with her remarks.

Chief Justice Roberts had extra involvement within the respondent’s argument.

The Chief’s remarks take up virtually a full web page of transcripts starting on the finish of web page 50 and concluding on the underside of web page 51.

The Chief begins this passage mentioning a possible flaw in respondent’s reasoning, “I — I — I assume I’m having hassle following precisely what it’s you’re searching for. And I don’t suppose you’re grappling with the purpose that Justice Barrett simply raised, which is you — all people might learn about this. You realize, as — as you’ve put it, it’s no secret in any respect.”

The phrase depend differential on this case is proven subsequent.

Right here we see Justices Roberts, Barrett, and Alito talking extra throughout respondent’s argument whereas Justices Kagan, Gorsuch, and Sotomayor extra lively throughout petitioner’s argument. 

We are able to then take the sum of the justices’ phrase counts throughout all the first week’s arguments to see who spoke essentially the most.

Two of the extra liberal justices on the Courtroom, Justices Kagan and Breyer spoke most. The opposite liberal on the Courtroom, Justice Sotomayor, was the median justice when it comes to phrases spoken. Justices Roberts and Alito spoke many of the extra conservative justices, whereas usually reticent Justice Thomas perhaps spoke greater than some might need anticipated. Justice Kavanaugh who needed to take part within the arguments telephonically resulting from COVID-19 protocols was the least lively justice through the first week’s arguments.

Learn extra at The Juris Lab … 

Adam Feldman runs the litigation consulting firm Optimized Authorized Options LLC. For extra info write Adam at afeldman@thejurislab.comDiscover him on Twitter: @AdamSFeldman.

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