Jekyll and Hyde Questions from the Bench: Does the Emotional Nature of Supreme Court Justices' Questions Affect their Votes on the Merits?
28 Pages Posted: 20 May 2009
Date Written: May 20, 2009
Scholars have shown that political actors go public to bolster their policy positions. We also know that, when going public, emotion in language plays a role in presidential speeches (Sigelman and Whissell 2002a, 2002b) and in rhetoric used by senators during impeachment trials (Sigelman, Deering and Loomis 2000). We do not know, however, whether these findings apply to the third branch of government - the judiciary. As such, we seek to determine whether the emotional content of justices' questions and comments made during the only public portion of the Court's decision-making process - oral arguments - affects the decisions they make. Using data from all oral arguments between 1979 and 2006 we find the justices' use of unpleasant language towards the petitioner makes it less likely the Court will reverse the lower court decision, but that positive emotional language does not help the petitioner's likelihood of success.
Keywords: Supreme Court, oral arguments, decision making
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