By Amy Howe
Sep 21, 2021
at 3:19 p.m.
The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that oral argument will follow a slightly different pattern when judges return to the courtroom for in-person argument next month. Instead of reverting entirely to the traditional ‘free for all’ format for asking questions, judges will take a hybrid approach that allows them time to take turns asking questions, as they did during the hearing of the judges. telephone advocacy during the pandemic. . The change appears to increase the chances that Judge Clarence Thomas, who was rarely heard in the courtroom but actively participated in arguments from a distance, will continue to participate when in-person arguments resume.
The notification of the change was made in the new version of the guide to pleading lawyers, which was released on Tuesday. Following the procedure outlined in the guide, the first part of each argument will follow the format used before the pandemic, in which judges – after giving lawyers a brief interval at the start to make their opening statements – will freely ask questions. During this time, judges can presumably interrupt the pleading lawyer and the other at will.
But after each attorney’s time runs out, the guide explains, “each judge will have the opportunity to question that attorney individually,” starting with Chief Justice John Roberts and continuing in order of seniority, just like the court. did so when hearing arguments over the phone during the pandemic. The guide does not indicate how much time each judge will have for their questions, although it does ask litigators to “answer questions directly” and avoid making “additional arguments that do not answer the question”.
Designating specific opportunities for each judge to ask questions appears to increase the likelihood that Thomas will continue to be an active participant, as he has been in remote disputes over the past year. Thomas, who is known to be chatty and gregarious off the bench, expressed doubts about the court’s traditional open-ended argument format, saying lawyers should be able to make their points without being interrupted. He spent up to 10 years without asking questions in oral argument. But when the court moved to the more structured format for remote arguments, Thomas became an active participant whose questions often elicited follow-ups from the more junior judges who spoke after him.
This article was originally published by Howe on the Court.