Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-ttngx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-23T17:41:16.128Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

The Influence of Oral Arguments on the U.S. Supreme Court

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2006

University of Minnesota
George Washington University
University of California, Davis


We posit that Supreme Court oral arguments provide justices with useful information that influences their final votes on the merits. To examine the role of these proceedings, we ask the following questions: (1) what factors influence the quality of arguments presented to the Court; and, more importantly, (2) does the quality of a lawyer's oral argument affect the justices' final votes on the merits? We answer these questions by utilizing a unique data source—evaluations Justice Blackmun made of the quality of oral arguments presented to the justices. Our analysis shows that Justice Blackmun's grading of attorneys is somewhat influenced by conventional indicators of the credibility of attorneys and are not simply the product of Justice Blackmun's ideological leanings. We thus suggest they can plausibly be seen as measuring the quality of oral argument. We further show that the probability of a justice voting for a litigant increases dramatically if that litigant's lawyer presents better oral arguments than the competing counsel. These results therefore indicate that this element of the Court's decisional process affects final votes on the merits, and it has implications for how other elite decision makers evaluate and use information.

© 2006 by the American Political Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Austen-Smith David. 1993. “Information and Influence: Lobbying for Agendas and Votes.” American Journal of Political Science 37 (August): 799833.Google Scholar
Austen-Smith David, and John R. Wright. 1994. “Counteractive Lobbying.” American Journal of Political Science 38 (February): 2544.Google Scholar
Bailey Michael, Brian Kamoie, and Forrest Maltzman. 2005. “Signals from the Tenth Justice: The Political Role of the Solicitor General in Supreme Court Decision-Making.” American Journal of Political Science 49 (January): 7285.Google Scholar
Bartels Larry M. 1986. “Issue Voting Under Uncertainty: An Empirical Test.” American Journal of Political Science 30 (November): 70928.Google Scholar
Benoit William. 1989. “Attorney Argumentation and Supreme Court Opinions.” Argumentation and Advocacy 26 (Summer): 2238.Google Scholar
Boucher Robert L., and Jeffrey A. Segal. 1995. “Supreme Court Justices as Strategic Decision Makers: Aggressive Grants and Defensive Denials on the Vinson Court.” Journal of Politics 57 (August): 82437.Google Scholar
Byrne J. Peter. 1993. “Academic Freedom and Political Neutrality in Law Schools: An Essay on Structure and Ideology in Professional Education.” Journal of Legal Education 43 (September): 31539.Google Scholar
Caldeira Gregory A., and John R. Wright. 1988. “Organized Interests and Agenda Setting in the U.S. Supreme Court.” American Political Science Review 82 (December): 110927.Google Scholar
Caldeira Gregory A., John R. Wright, and Christopher J. W. Zorn. 1999. “Sophisticated Voting and Gate-Keeping in the Supreme Court.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 15 (October): 54972.Google Scholar
Caplan Lincoln. 1987. The Tenth Justice. New York: Knopf.
Cohen Donald. 1978. “Judicial Predictability in United States Supreme Court Oral Advocacy: Analysis of the Oral Argument in TVA v. Hill.” University of Puget Sound Law Review 2 (Fall): 89136.Google Scholar
Crawford Vincent P., and Joel Sobel. 1982. “Strategic Information Transmission.” Econometrica 50 (November): 143151.Google Scholar
Daniels v. Williams. 1986. 474 U.S. 327.
Diermeier Daniel, and Timothy J. Fedderson. 2000. “Information and Congressional Hearings.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (January): 5165.Google Scholar
Environmental Protection Agency v. Mink. 1973. 410 U.S. 73.
Epstein Lee, and Jack Knight. 1998. The Choices Justices Make. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press.
Epstein Lee, and Joseph F. Kobylka. 1992. The Supreme Court and Legal Change. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Farrell Joseph. 1987. “Cheap Talk, Coordination, and Entry.” RAND Journal of Economics 18 (Spring): 3439.Google Scholar
Farrell Joseph, and Matthew Rabin. 1996. “Cheap Talk.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 10 (Summer): 10318.Google Scholar
First National Maintenance Corporation v. NLRB. 1981. 452 U.S. 666.
Florida Department of State v. Treasure Salvors. 1982. 458 U.S. 670.
Galanter Mark. 1974. “Why the ‘Haves’ Come Out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal Change.” Law and Society Review 9 (Fall): 95160.Google Scholar
Gilligan Thomas G., and Keith Krehbiel. 1987. “Collective Decisionmaking and Standing Committees: An Informational Rationale for Restrictive Amendment Procedures.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 3 (Autumn): 287335.Google Scholar
Greenhouse Linda. 2004. “Press Room Predictions.” Perspectives on Politics 2 (December): 78184.Google Scholar
Hansford Thomas, and James F. Spriggs II. 2006. The Politics of Precedent on the U.S. Supreme Court. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hoekstra Valerie, and Timothy R. Johnson. 2003. “Delaying Justice: The Supreme Court's Decision to Hear Rearguments.” Political Research Quarterly 56 (September): 35160.Google Scholar
Huber John D., and Nolan McCarty. 2001. “Cabinet Decision Rules and Political Uncertainty in Parliamentary Bargaining.” American Political Science Review 95 (June): 34560.Google Scholar
Jensen v. Quaring. 1985. 472 U.S. 478.
Johnson Timothy R. 2001. “Information, Oral Arguments, and Supreme Court Decision Making.” American Politics Research 29 (July): 33151.Google Scholar
Johnson Timothy R. 2004. Oral Arguments and Decision Making on the U.S. Supreme Court. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Johnson Timothy R., James F. Spriggs II, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 2005. “Passing and Strategic Voting on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Law & Society Review 39 (June): 34977.Google Scholar
Krehbiel Keith. 1991. Information and Legislative Organization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Kugler v. Helfant. 1975. 421 U.S. 117.
Local No. 82, Furniture & Piano Movers, Furniture Store Drivers, Helpers, Warehousemen & Packers v. Crowley. 1984. 467 U.S. 526.
Lupia Arthur, and Matthew McCubbins. 1998. The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Really Need to Know? New York: Cambridge University Press.
Maltzman Forrest, James F. Spriggs II, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 2000. Crafting Law on the Supreme Court: The Collegial Game. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Maltzman Forrest, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 2004. “A Conditional Model of Opinion Assignment on the Supreme Court.” Political Research Quarterly 57 (December): 55163.Google Scholar
Martin Andrew D., and Kevin M. Quinn. 2002. “Dynamic Ideal Point Estimation via Markov Chain Monte Carlo for the U.S. Supreme Court, 1953–1999.” Political Analysis 10 (2): 13453.Google Scholar
McGuire Kevin T. 1993a. The Supreme Court Bar: Legal Elites in the Washington Community. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
McGuire Kevin T. 1993b. “Lawyers and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Washington Community and Legal Elites.” American Journal of Political Science 37 (May): 36590.Google Scholar
McGuire Kevin T. 1995. “Repeat Players in the Supreme Court: The Role of Experienced Lawyers in Litigation Success.” Journal of Politics 57 (February): 18796.Google Scholar
McGuire Kevin T. 1998. “Explaining Executive Success in the U.S. Supreme Court.” Political Research Quarterly 51 (June): 50526.Google Scholar
Monroe v. Standard Oil Company. 1981. 452 U.S. 549.
Murphy v. Hunt. 1982. 455 U.S. 478.
Nemacheck Christine. 2001. “Strategic Selection: Presidential Selection of Supreme Court Justices from Hoover through Bush.” Ph.D. diss. George Washington University.
O'Brien David. 1996. M. Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics 4th ed. New York: Norton.
Palmer Jan. 1982. “An Econometric Analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court's Certiorari Decisions.” Public Choice 39 (3): 38798.Google Scholar
Powell Lewis F. 1982. Chambers Actions on Miscellaneous Motions, September 23. Available in the Personal Papers of Harry H. Blackmun, Library of Congress, Washington DC.
Pritchett C. Herman. 1948. The Roosevelt Court: A Study in Judicial Politics and Values, 1937–1947. New York: Macmillan.
Provine Doris Marie. 1980. Case Selection in the United States Supreme Court. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rahn Wendy M. 1993. “The Role of Partisan Stereotypes in Information Processing about Political Candidates.” American Journal of Political Science 37 (May): 47296.Google Scholar
Rehnquist William H. 1987. The Supreme Court: How It Was, How It Is. New York: Morrow.
Richards Mark J., and Herbert M. Kritzer. 2002. “Jurisprudential Regimes in Supreme Court Decision Making.” American Political Science Review 96 (June): 30520.Google Scholar
Rogers James R. 2001. “Information and Judicial Review: A Signaling Game of Legislative-Judicial Interaction.” American Journal of Political Science 45 (January): 8499.Google Scholar
Rohde David W., and Harold J. Spaeth. 1976. Supreme Court Decision Making. San Francisco: Freeman.
Sala Brian R., and James F. Spriggs II. 2004. “Designing Tests of the Supreme Court and the Separation of Powers.” Political Research Quarterly 57 (June): 197208.Google Scholar
Salokar Rebecca Mae. 1992. The Solicitor General: The Politics of Law. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Schubert James N., Steven Peterson, Glendon A. Schubert, and Stephen L. Wasby. 1992. “Observing Supreme Court Oral Argument: A Biosocial Approach.” Politics and Life Sciences 11 (February): 3551.Google Scholar
Segal Jeffrey A. 1984. “Predicting Supreme Court Decisions Probabilistically: The Search and Seizure Cases.” American Political Science Review 78 (December): 891900.Google Scholar
Segal Jeffrey A. 1988. “Amicus Curiae Briefs by the Solicitor General During the Warren and Burger Courts: A Research Note.” Western Political Quarterly 41 (March): 13544.Google Scholar
Segal Jeffrey A. 1990. “Supreme Court Support for the Solicitor General: The Effect of Presidential Appointments.” Western Political Quarterly 43 (March): 13752.Google Scholar
Segal Jeffrey A., and Albert D. Cover. 1989. “Ideological Values and the Votes of U.S. Supreme Court Justices.” The American Political Science Review 83 (June): 55765.Google Scholar
Segal Jeffrey A., and Harold J. Spaeth. 2002. The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shullman Sarah. 2004. “The Illusion of Devil's Advocacy: How the Justices of the Supreme Court Foreshadow Their Decisions during Oral Argument.” The Journal of Appellate Practice and Process 6 (Fall): 27193.Google Scholar
Southland Corporation v. Keating. 1984. 465 U.S. 1.
Spaeth Harold J. 2004. The Original United States Supreme Court Database, 1953–2002 Terms. East Lansing: Michigan State University. Available at
Spriggs James F.,II, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 1997. “Amicus Curiae and the Role of Information at the Supreme Court.” Political Research Quarterly 50 (June): 36586.Google Scholar
Stern Robert L., Eugene Gressman, and Stephen M. Shapiro. 1993. Supreme Court Practice: For Practice in the Supreme Court of the United States. 7th ed. Washington DC: Bureau of National Affairs.
Strum Philippa. 2000. “Change and Continuity on the Supreme Court: Conversations with Justice Harry A. Blackmun.” University of Richmond Law Review 34 (March): 285304.Google Scholar
United States v. 12 200-Ft. Reels of Film. 1973. 413 U.S. 123.
United States v. American Bar Endowment. 1986. 477 U.S. 105.
Vose Clement. 1959. Caucasians Only. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Wahlbeck Paul J. 1998. “The Development of a Legal Rule: The Federal Common Law of Public Nuisance.” Law & Society Review 32 (3): 61337.Google Scholar
Walker Thomas G., and Lee Epstein. 1993. The Supreme Court of the United States: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Wasby Stephen L., Anthony A. D'Amato, and Rosemary Metrailer. 1976. “The Functions of Oral Argument in the U.S. Supreme Court.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 62 (December): 410422.Google Scholar
Wasby Stephen L., Steven Peterson, James N. Schubert, and Glendon A. Schubert. 1992. “The Supreme Court's Use of Per Curiam Dispositions: The Connection to Oral Argument.” Northern Illinois University Law Review 13 (Fall): 132.Google Scholar