SCOTUS in the Time of COVID: The Evolution of Justice Dynamics during Oral Arguments

29 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2022

See all articles by Eve Ringsmuth

Eve Ringsmuth

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater

Matthew Sag

Emory University School of Law

Timothy R. Johnson

University of Minnesota

Tonja Jacobi

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: September 27, 2022

Abstract

We assess changes to oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the degree to which those changes persisted once the justices became used to the new procedures. To do so, we examine whether key attributes of these proceedings changed as the Court experimented with telephonic hearings and subsequently returned to in-person oral arguments. We demonstrate that the initial telephonic forum changed the dynamics of oral argument in a way that gave the chief justice new power and reconfigured justices’ engagement during these proceedings. However, we also show that the associate justices adapted to this new institutional landscape by changing their behavior. The findings shed light on the consequences of significant, novel, disruptions to institutional rules and norms in the government and legal system.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Oral Argument, Covid, Chief Justice, Judicial Behavior

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Ringsmuth, Eve and Sag, Matthew and Johnson, Timothy R. and Jacobi, Tonja, SCOTUS in the Time of COVID: The Evolution of Justice Dynamics during Oral Arguments (September 27, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4231615 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4231615

Eve Ringsmuth (Contact Author)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater ( email )

Stillwater, OK 74078-0555
United States

HOME PAGE: http://everingsmuth.com

Matthew Sag

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Timothy R. Johnson

University of Minnesota ( email )

Department of Political Science
1414 Social Sciences, 267 19th Ave S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0410
United States

Tonja Jacobi

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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