For the past 25 years, an oral argument before the United States Supreme Court was considered an oddity when an advocate managed to squeeze two or three sentences in before being interrupted by the bench. Last Thursday, the Supreme Court stunned the SCOTUS bar by noting in its newly revised “Guide for Counsel” that the justices “generally” will not ask questions of either party during the first two minutes of oral argument. Need reassurance that this was not a typo? The Guide discloses that
The white light on the lectern will illuminate briefly at the end of this period to signal the start of questioning. Where argument is divided and counsel represents an amicus or an additional party, the white light will illuminate after one minute.
Guide for Counsel at 7.
This unexpected change in Supreme Court preferences left the oral argument advocates for the following week scrambling to prepare their two-minute elevator speeches.
And on Monday, the Supreme Court justices dutifully followed their newly announced policy, patiently listening for the allotted time as the advocates sought to master the new oral argument rhythm. Yet as soon as the white light on the lectern illuminated, all bets were off. The SCOTUS blog includes a comical play-by-play detailing how the new quiet time worked on its first day out of the gate.
I am interested to hear our blog readers thoughts regarding this change. For example, any speculation as to why the Supreme Court implemented this change–apparently with little warning? Will the new system benefit both appellants and appellees equally? Will advocates take advantage of the two-minute grace period? Or will they waive it in favor of jumping right into the justices’ questions? And is anyone taking bets on whether (or how long) these listening moments will survive at SCOTUS?
You have two minutes to respond in the comments below–at which point this blog post may self-destruct. 😉