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Asking Versus Telling: The Supreme Court’s Strategic Use of Questions and Statements During Oral Arguments

Posted on 2023-03-19 - 00:12

Supreme Court oral arguments are often characterized as the Court rapidly firing questions at attorneys who struggle to keep up; however, nearly half of the Court’s utterances come not as questions but as statements. I ask whether patterns of questioning and commenting behavior during oral arguments can predict case outcomes and justice votes. To answer this question, I develop a theory of strategic communication that accounts for the differential ways justices—and other strategic actors—use queries and comments during arguments. Using transcripts from 1981 to 2019, I code for use of questions and statements, finding the two theoretically and empirically distinct: where questions increase a party’s chances of winning, statements increase their chance of losing.

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