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Supreme Court

Justice Jackson Sets Record for New Justice in October Arguments (Updated)

The Court's newest justice was an extremely active questioner during the Supreme Court's October arguments.


The Supreme Court's newest Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, was an extremely active questioner throughout the Court's October argument. Indeed, as Dr. Adam Feldman of EmpiricalSCOTUS tabulated, she spoke over twice as much at oral argument as any other justice. Here are the numbers, in graphical form.

(Adam Feldman, EmpicialSCOTUS)

Justice Jackson's engagement in oral argument has attracted notice. Here, for example, is what the Washington Post reported:

[F]ew were prepared for Jackson's venturesome debut in the court's first sitting. Over eight oral arguments, she dominated the questioning and commentary, speaking twice as much as her next most loquacious colleague. . . .

Jackson was a persistent questioner in every case. Her contributions ranged from the sweeping — a rejection of an originalist interpretation of a colorblind Constitution that provoked swoons from the liberal legal community — to the kind of mundane minutiae upon which even Supreme Court decisions turn. . . .

By the end of the eight arguments, Jackson had spoken more than 11,000 words, according to Feldman's statistics. That's about double the nearly 5,500 words spoken by runner-up Justice Sonia Sotomayor. (Justice Elena Kagan was in third place, indicating that while the court's three liberals may be outvoted in many cases this term, they are not going to be outargued.)

Unlike some other recent additions to the court, Jackson had months after her confirmation to prepare for the court's initial round of arguments. Olivia Warren, a former law clerk to Jackson during her time as a trial court judge, said the justice's questions reflect extensive preparation and interest in making sure she understands the positions the lawyers are taking in their briefs.

The Washington Post also noted that not every justice has received such positive reviews about their first oral arguments.

Some conservatives have grumbled that Jackson's outspokenness has been hailed as admirable, while justices on the right of the political spectrum — Justice Neil M. Gorsuch in his debut in 2017, for instance — were criticized for coming on too strong.

Case in point, here is how the Washington Post covered Justice Gorsuch's aggressive questioning when he first joined the Court:

New Justice Neil M. Gorsuch was an active, aggressive and somewhat long-winded questioner in his debut Monday at the Supreme Court, making his presence known during a series of complicated cases about legal procedures.

Gorsuch waited barely 10 minutes into the first of three hour-long cases before kicking off what became a long chain of questions. There is no expectation at the high court that new justices are to be seen and not heard, but the 49-year-old rookie seemed to push the envelope a bit.

Gorsuch asked more questions at his first oral argument — 22 — than did any of his fellow justices at their first appearances, according to Adam Feldman, a scholar who studies all things empirical about the Supreme Court. Before Monday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor had been the leader with 15 questions.

And, according to Feldman's count, Gorsuch was wordier than all of his colleagues during their first time out, save for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan, who had joined the court after representing the government there as its chief lawyer.

UPDATE: Feldman provides some additional data and analysis in this post.