Oct 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

SCOTUS arguments changed after female justices were interrupted

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on April 23, 2021.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Photo: Erin Schaff/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Wednesday that changes in the format of oral arguments were made in part after research showed that female justices were interrupted more by male justices and advocates, CNN reports.

Driving the news: Sotomayor said the studies, including one published in 2017, have had an "enormous impact" and caused Chief Justice John Roberts to be "much more sensitive" to people being interrupted on the court, per CNN.

  • "Most of the time women say things and they are not heard in the same way as men who might say the identical thing," Sotomayor said at an event at New York University School of Law, referring to both in the courtroom and in society more broadly.
  • Sotomayor said she noticed the pattern of interruption "without question" before the format of oral arguments changed, adding that her response was often to "interrupt back," per CNN.
  • NYU confirmed CNN's reporting.

The big picture: The court's new system at oral arguments, also in part a holdover from the pandemic, permits each justice to ask specific questions after an attorney's time has expired, per CNN.

  • Sotomayor also emphasized the need for professional diversity on the court, saying that when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, "we lost our only civil rights lawyer."
  • "I do worry that the authorities who are selecting judges are not paying enough attention to that kind of diversity as well," Sotomayor said, per CNN.
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