Author ORCID Identifier
Tonja Jacobi 0000-0002-5200-5765
Matthew Sag 0000-0003-2381-1028
Telephonic hearings, Oral argument, Supreme Court, Strategic behavior, Chief Justice Roberts, Gender effects, Political ideology
In this Article, we empirically assess the Supreme Court’s experiment in hearing telephonic oral arguments. We compare the telephonic hearings to those heard in person by the current Court and examine whether the Justices followed norms of fairness and equality. We show that the telephonic forum changed the dynamics of oral argument in a way that gave the Chief Justice new power, and that Chief Justice Roberts, knowingly or unknowingly, used that new power to benefit his ideological allies. We also show that the Chief interrupted the female Justices disproportionately more than the male Justices and gave the male Justices more substantive opportunities to have their questions answered.
This analysis transcends the significance of individual cases. The fact that the Court experimented with telephonic oral argument, the way it did so, and how the practice could be improved are all issues of profound national importance. The new format had the potential to influence the outcome of cases that have broad national significance, to shift norms of equality and transparency in the Court, and more generally to affect judicial legitimacy. If the Court favors certain parties or certain ideological camps by its choice of forum in a time of crisis, then that will undermine not only the Court’s legitimacy but also raise doubts as to whether any of our national institutions have the capacity to adapt to crises.
Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal
Tonja Jacobi , Timothy R. Johnson, Eve M. Ringsmuth & Matthew Sag, Oral Argument in the Time of COVID: The Chief Plays Calvinball, 30 S. CAL. Interdisc. L.J. 399 (2021).