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Justices Getting Chattier on the Bench

Saturday, 05 Mar 2011 09:57 AM

The additions of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama have taken the already chatting oral arguments to a new level of hypotheticals, questions supreme,court,oral,argumentsand comments. An analysis of transcripts of the one hour of oral arguments allotted to each case shows that both Sotomayor and Kagan are more vocal than the justices they replaced, The Washington Post reports.

The average lines of transcripts taken up by justices questions or comments was 486 last term. That figure has now jumped to 542. The ramping up of questioning has often been attributed to Justice Antonin Scalia, who joined the court in 1986 and revels in the process of questioning attorneys, the Post said.

Only Justice Stephen Breyer tops Scalia when it comes to oral arguments. Sotomayor is next, followed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Kagan, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, who has now gone five years without making a comment, the Post said.

Thomas rejects the idea that the rapid-fire questioning helps. In a 2009 interview with C-SPAN, he said the oral argument is an "opportunity for the advocate, the lawyers, to fill in the blanks, to make their case. I think you should allow people to complete their answers and their thought, and to continue their conversation. I find that coherence that you get from a conversation far more helpful than the rapid-fire questions," the Post reported.

Lisa Blatt, who has appeared before the court both as a government lawyer and private practitioner, said, "They're way more active than they've ever been. They ask a lot of questions," the Post reported.

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