Friday, March 17, 2023
Tonja Jacobi & Matthew Sag, Supreme Court Interruptions and Interventions: The Changing Role of the Chief Justice, 103 Boston U. Law Review (2023)
Interruptions at Supreme Court oral argument have received much attention in recent years, particularly the disproportionate number of interruptions directed at the female Justices. The Supreme Court changed the structure of oral argument to try to address this problem. This Article assesses whether the frequency and gender disparity of interruptions of Justices has improved in recent years, and whether the structural change in argument has helped. It shows that interruptions went down during the pandemic but have resurged to near-record highs, as has the gender disparity in Justice-to-Justice interruptions. However, although the rate of advocate interruptions of Justices also remains historically high, for the first time in years it no longer shows any gender disparity. Thus, the structural change to oral argument has had mixed results.
The problem of gendered interruptions at Supreme Court oral argument has led to calls for the Chief Justice to take a more active role at oral argument. This Article also addresses whether and how Chief Justice Roberts has responded to this call. It shows that the Chief has been intervening more, not in response to the increasing number of interruptions, but in response to the gender disparity growing more severe. Further, he has directed his interventions at supporting those most interrupted, disrupting those making the most interruptions, and, significantly, using his interventions to recognize and combat interruptions of the female Justices. When it comes to interruptions at the Court, the Chief Justice is no longer simply the first among equals but has a new role, as a referee, attempting to address a social and institutional problem.