Information, Oral Arguments, and Supreme Court Decision Making


Conventional wisdom in judicial politics is that oral arguments play little if any role in how the Supreme Court makes decisions. A primary reason for this view is that insufficient evidence exists to test this hypothesis. Thus, I ask, do Supreme Court justices use information from oral arguments that may help them make decisions as close as possible to their preferred goals? My answer is straightforward: An investigation of the oral arguments and the Court’s majority opinions in a sample of cases from the Burger Court era shows that the Court gathers information during oral arguments and then uses this information when making substantive policy choices. This finding has clear implications for the way in which scholars view the Supreme Court’s decision-making process, as it suggests that the accepted view of where oral arguments fit into this process is far from accurate.

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@inproceedings{Johnson2001InformationOA, title={Information, Oral Arguments, and Supreme Court Decision Making}, author={Timothy R. B. Johnson and Lee Epstein and Jack Knight and Valerie Hoekstra and Bill Lowry and Greg Caldeira and Susan Brodie Haire and Maria Skolarikou and J. A. van Ginkel and Chris Hasselman}, year={2001} }