Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

SCOTUSblog Study: Chief Justice Was ‘Evenly Balanced’ in Allocating Time at Oral Argument

A follow-up of sorts to this post of mine on Leah Litman’s study of the Supreme Court’s recent telephonic oral arguments:

On SCOTUSblog, Adam Feldman, author of the Empirical SCOTUS blog, reports the results of his own study. Feldman finds that the division of time between sides in each case was “fairly evenly balanced.” (I’ll interject that it’s not clear what an imbalance would signal: perhaps the time with more side is being favored, or perhaps the justices asking hard questions of that side are being favored.) Looking at “Average Time Per Justice Turn,” Feldman similarly concludes that his “measurements do not suggest that [Chief Justice] Roberts was ideologically motivated in the way he allocated time among the justices, as he allotted large amounts of time to both more liberal justices Sotomayor and Kagan and more conservative justices Alito and Neil Gorsuch.”

For some reason, Feldman’s data appear to differ significantly from Litman’s “average time allowed to speak per questioning period.” But Feldman’s data, like Litman’s, shows that the female justices on average received slightly more time per questioning period than the male justices. (Litman had a six-second gap; I calculate Feldman’s gap to be just under eight seconds.)

One other tidbit from Feldman’s study: Justice Sotomayor “was the only justice to average more time on questions than answers, spending an average of six seconds more on questions.”

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