Friday, May 27, 2011

The Importance of Oral Arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court

We wrote previously about oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas regards oral arguments to be generally irrelevant and has not asked a question in five years, even though he sometimes takes positions in his opinions that are not raised on appeal and about which there is no discussion. He just leans back, collects his pay check and decides as he wants.

Thomas attends oral arguments silently and is quoted as saying: "If I invite you to argue your case, I should at least listen to you." Note the personal "I".

How "generous" of this Justice to lend an ear to the arguments of the parties.

Debra Cassens Weiss at the ABA Journal in Think Oral Arguments Are Important? Think Again, Justice Alito Says - News - ABA Journal reports that:
"[Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said] oral arguments aren’t all that important, despite a popular belief to the contrary. Instead, he asserted, what’s important are the briefs and the preparation."

By contrast, as written by Adap Liptak at the New York Times in No Argument: Thomas Keeps 5-Year Silence:
"In the 20 years that ended in 2008, the justices asked an average of 133 questions per hourlong argument, up from about 100 in the 15 years before that."
Given the considerable Justice time that is devoted to oral arguments, what then is the purpose of having them at all, if their importance is minimal? And why then ask a lot of what must be irrelevant questions? And why force hordes of lawyers to speak before the Court if it has no impact on the result? Someone is paying for all that -- mostly the taxpayers. You might then as well put the entire charade on TV, something that the Justices thus far have opposed. If the whole thing is a farce, as it may be, the reluctance to "go public" is understandable.

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