Appellate Practice

SCOTUS litigators with more manly voices were more likely to lose, study finds

  • Print.


Image from Shutterstock.

A study of 60 male lawyers arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court found that those whose voices were rated as more masculine were more likely to lose their cases.

The researchers asked about 200 volunteers to rate the male lawyers’ voices based on their opening sentence, “Mister Chief Justice, may it please the court,” according to a synopsis here (PDF) and a draft article here (PDF). The study will be presented at the January meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, New Scientist reports in a story noted by How Appealing.

The study found that, after controlling for the age and experience of the lawyers, those with voices perceived as more masculine were less likely to win.

The findings are part of a larger project studying the impact of voice and gender in the courts, according to one of the researchers, Alan Yu of the University of Chicago. Yu told New Scientist that the results are surprising, and he would like to explore whether the perceived likelihood of winning affects how lawyers speak. “Lawyers who think they’re going to lose may project a different kind of voice, perhaps overcompensating by sounding more masculine,” Yu said.

The other researchers who worked on the study are Daniel Chen of ETH Zurich and Yosh Halberstam of the University of Toronto.

See also: “Is your voice persuasive? Scientists study charismatic speakers for clues”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.