U.S. Supreme Court

A Roberts Grilling Is Bad Sign


Lawyers peppered with a lot of questions from the chief justice in Supreme Court oral arguments face more than a grilling: They also stand an increased chance of losing his vote, if it’s a close case.

That’s the conclusion of a study of 25 oral arguments that produced 5-4 decisions, Legal Times reports.

It found that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked more questions of the side he voted against in 23 of the cases. Lawyers he voted against withstood an average of 14.3 questions, while lawyers who won his vote had to answer only 3.6 of his queries.

The pattern is not confined to the chief justice, at least in ideological cases. The study by University of Kansas psychology professor Lawrence Wrightsman found that the losing side faced more questions in 73 percent of the court’s ideological cases.

Wrightsman says the strong correlation between a grilling by Roberts and a negative vote suggests he is predisposed against some arguments before they are even made. “I don’t want to say he has already decided the case, but he is setting a higher standard for one side than for the other,” he told the legal newspaper.

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