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Lawyer, Interrupted: Gender Bias in Oral Arguments at the US Supreme Court

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Dana Patton*
University of Alabama
Joseph L. Smith
University of Alabama
Contact the corresponding author at


We examine gender bias in political institutions through a novel lens: oral arguments at the US Supreme Court. We ask whether female lawyers are afforded less speaking time during oral arguments compared to male lawyers. We posit that justices, while highly educated and more aware than most of laws requiring equal treatment, may be influenced by gender schemas that result in unconscious biased treatment of male and female lawyers. Applying automated content analysis to the transcripts of 3,583 oral arguments, we find that female lawyers are interrupted earlier, allowed to speak for less time between interruptions, and subjected to more and longer speeches by the justices compared to their male counterparts. However, this pattern is reversed during oral arguments involving gender-related cases. Our most novel and significant theoretical finding is that gender negates the well-documented positive effect of being on the winning side of a case.

Research Article
© 2017 by Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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Authors’ names are listed alphabetically; each contributed equally to the project. We thank Kevin McGuire, Nichole Bauer, the editor of this journal, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.


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