U.S. Supreme Court

These two justices are the most interrupted in oral arguments; is a gender dynamic at play?

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Judge in robes with gavel

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have been interrupted by other justices more often this term than any of their colleagues.

Sotomayor was interrupted 57 times and Kagan 50 times, according to findings by lawyer and Ph.D. candidate Adam Feldman, Mother Jones reports. Third was Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who was interrupted 36 times. Feldman scoured the court transcripts and wrote about his findings at Empirical SCOTUS.

The justice who most often interrupts the others is Anthony M. Kennedy. “This is not wholly surprising,” Feldman writes, “since he is often more engaged than other justices in both sides’ arguments in a given case.”

Mother Jones sums up the findings this way: “Research going back to the 1970s shows definitively what women have long understood intuitively: Men have a hard time letting women talk without interrupting them—frequently. Apparently, not even holding one of the most powerful posts in America spares women from this irritating phenomenon.”

Feldman offered his own theories in an email to Mother Jones. Kagan may be interrupted often because she is the court’s most junior member and she tends to be deferential to more senior justices, he said. And Sotomayor tends to start thoughts without finishing them, he says.

But Feldman also told Mother Jones that the Supreme Court has a history as a male-dominated institution, and gender dynamics could play a role.


Graphic courtesy of Adam Feldman.

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