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Sotomayor says Supreme Court adjusted format of arguments in part because of interruptions by female judges


Washington – Judge Sonia Sotomayor revealed on Wednesday that studies showing that female judges were more often interrupted by their male colleagues had a “big impact on the dynamics of my court” and led to changes in oral arguments. She also lamented that professional diversity among the nine members of the court is “sorely lacking”, especially after the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year.

At a virtual event hosted by New York University Law School, Sotomayor said the studies, namely a study published in 2017 by two researchers at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, had a “huge impact ”on the way the Supreme Court conducts its hearings. arguments, she said. The 2017 study by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers found that female judges were interrupted at disproportionate rates by male High Court men, as well as male lawyers appearing before them.

“People paid attention,” she said of the results, “and it allowed behavioral self-examination.”

The studies led Chief Justice John Roberts to be “much more sensitive” to the matter and to ensure that judges “were if not interrupted, at least he played the referee when interruptions occurred.” CNN first reported Sotomayor’s remarks at the event.

When the Supreme Court came back for oral argument to start of his term This month, it launched a new format for its sessions that combined free questioning by the judges with a turn of each member asking questions one by one, a holdover from the arguments at a distance held during the coronavirus pandemic.

A new argument format deployed for this term has somewhat reduced interrupts. Lawyers have two minutes at the start of their argument to make uninterrupted opening remarks, after which the questioning by the judges begins in its traditional free-for-all. Then, once the prosecutor’s time for argument is over, each judge has the opportunity to ask questions in order of seniority, starting with the chief judge.

By incorporating the one-by-one approach, the High Court appeared to adopt a hybrid model for its arguments, as it retained the format used during its remote arguments last year, when the coronavirus pandemic closed the courtroom. hearing and compels judges to conduct sessions by teleconference.

Judge Clarence Thomas, who rarely asked questions during in-person arguments before the pandemic, has been active during remote arguments and has continued to be this quarter with the new hybrid sessions.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Sotomayor also addressed the diversity within the Court with regard to their judicial philosophies and professional experience, noting that with Ginsburg’s death last year, the High Court “has lost our only one. civil rights lawyer “. Professional diversity within the country’s highest court, she said, “is sorely lacking.”

“We don’t have a real lawyer who’s been in the trenches on civil rights issues, whether it’s women’s rights or racial rights or even the rights of people with disabilities, at any level of rights. civilians, ”she said. “We don’t have anyone on our bench who has done any criminal defense work outside of maybe white collar work. We don’t have anyone who has done immigration work. We don’t have anyone who has done environmental work. “

Sotomayor continued, “There are so many areas of law that the court touches on and whose decisions have such a huge impact that I am concerned that the authorities who select the judges do not pay enough attention to this kind of diversity as well. “

President Biden has worked to nominate candidates to the federal judiciary with various backgrounds and address disparities in the professional experiences of judges, including those who have worked as public defenders.

Sotomayor also addressed the differences in judicial philosophies between her and her colleagues. The preserved

“For me that will mean a lot more dialogue, not an open dialogue where the court actually talks to people about what it is doing, but there is going to be a tremendous amount of dialogue from society in general about the role of the courts. in our society, “she said, adding that there are already discussions going on about changes in the composition or the work of the court.” I think this will probably continue given the changes that are taking place. produce in our society. “