Legal Argumentation and Case Quality at the U.S. Supreme Court

Posted: 9 Jul 2010

See all articles by Jeffrey Budziak

Jeffrey Budziak


Daniel Lempert

State University of New York at Potsdam

Date Written: July 8, 2010


The importance of legal argumentation at the Supreme Court has been subject to substantial debate in the judicial politics literature. Scholars have demonstrated that individual components of legal argumentation appear to independently influence Supreme Court decision-making. However, few examinations have attempted to disentangle, both theoretically and empirically, the dependent nature of legal argumentation. We attempt to do so by reexamining the oral argument component of legal argumentation. Relying on the oral argument grades assigned by Justice Harry Blackmun, we investigate the effect of oral argument grades at an unexpected stage of the Court's process: the decision to grant certiorari (cert). Our results show that the grades assigned by Justice Blackmun strongly correlate with the decisions of individual justices to vote to grant cert. We believe the results demonstrate both the importance of the underdeveloped notion of “case quality” and the need for greater theoretical and conceptual clarity between the different components of legal argumentation.

Suggested Citation

Budziak, Jeffrey and Lempert, Daniel, Legal Argumentation and Case Quality at the U.S. Supreme Court (July 8, 2010). 5th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey Budziak

Independent ( email )

Daniel Lempert (Contact Author)

State University of New York at Potsdam

44 Pierrepont Avenue,
Potsdam, NY 13676
United States

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