Sunday, June 12, 2022
Knowing When to Sit Down
Years ago, I witnessed a portion of an argument before the Supreme Court of India that was then in its third day with additional anticipated days of argument remaining. When I spoke to members of the Supreme Court bar afterwards, one experienced lawyer expressed astonishment that U.S. Supreme Court arguments were 30 minutes per side. How, he asked, is a lawyer going to “warm up” in that amount of time?
Last week, I argued a case in the Seventh Circuit. It rekindled memories of that trip to India, not because more than the usual amount of time was allotted, but because of how little time was needed. I represented the Appellee with 15 minutes of argument time. I was also in the unusual position of having three recent sister circuits ruling in favor of my position, along with more than 100 district court decisions. Even though I had suggested in my brief that argument would not further inform the court, oral argument was ordered.
My opponent was largely relegated to policy arguments. I planned three different approaches to my argument depending on how my opponent had faired. As expected, the Court was well prepared and pummeled my opponent with questions that could have come from my brief. He ended up using his entire 15 minutes responding to questions and reserved no time for rebuttal.
As I stood at the podium, the presiding judge immediately asked questions about whether any circuit had issued new decisions on our issues since I had filed a 28(j) letter in March and whether any other similar cases from within the circuit were pending on appeal. When I answered no to both questions, I was finally able to introduce myself. While I used a small amount of time to add favorable precision to some statements made during my opponent’s time at the podium, the questions from the bench tended to focus on whether a narrow decision would be sufficient to affirm our motion for remand, where the defendant had removed claiming federal-officer removal, complete preemption, and an embedded federal question. I understood the panel’s questions to favor affirmance. As the questions wound down, I realized the court was satisfied and that no further argument was necessary. I simply said that, unless there were any further questions for me, I ask that the district court be affirmed.
When I did so, about seven of my 15 minutes remained. Using more time was both unnecessary and likely counterproductive. The judges also likely appreciated my decision to end the argument early. From my perspective, even though the decision is under advisement, the argument seemed to go very well – even if I had not had the amount of time to warm up!