The United States Supreme Court has changed the way oral arguments are heard after studies found women were disproportionately interrupted by male judges and lawyers during their speeches, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said during of a discussion on diversity and inclusion this week in which she also raised concerns about judges. ‘limited professional experience in areas such as civil rights.
Sotomayor, speaking to New York University Law School on Wednesday, said judges have become more concerned with interrupting each other and Chief Justice John Roberts has become more of an arbitrator in the sequel to a particular study, “Justice, Interrupted,” which examined how judges compete for influence.
“In the case of this study, I think it had a huge impact,” she told NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino. “You will see us even now when we speak, a judge will say, ‘I’m sorry, did I interrupt you? And if you say “I was going to finish something”, they’ll say “Please go ahead”. This didn’t happen as much before, so this study had a big impact. “
Sotomayor went on to point out that the 2017 study did not necessarily shed light on the issue for her, noting that women tend to be interrupted or fired in society at large.
“Unfortunately, this is a dynamic that exists not only on the ground, but in society in general. Most of the time women say things and they are not heard in the same way as men who can say the same thing, ”she said.
Sotomayor used the late judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an example of someone who was overlooked as he spoke at the highest court in the land.
“Now here is a woman who no one doubts was powerful, but she was short, diminutive, and she had a very, very soft voice. And it was not uncommon that when she said something it was not heard or fully understood and as a result the things she said were often picked up by others and appropriated. without attribution, ”she said. “It is in the nature of our discourse as men and women that this tendency to ignore women is all too common. However, I think this study had a big impact on the dynamics of my yard. And I also suspect about the dynamics of other courts. People paid attention and this allowed for self-examination of behavior. “
Four years after the publication of this study, the Supreme Court announced last month that judges will now have two uninterrupted minutes to speak and ask questions during oral argument, rather than the traditional ‘free for all’ format, as reported. the SCOTUS blog.
This change appears to significantly benefit Judge Clarence Thomas, who for years has been known to speak infrequently in the courtroom. Thomas suddenly became active in oral argument when it took place over the phone due to the pandemic and judges were instructed to ask questions one at a time, without interruption.
Thomas said his usual silence in court stems from an aversion to interruptions and his fear that judges will waste lawyers’ limited time to present their case by asking unnecessary questions.
“Maybe that’s the Southerner in me. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, I don’t know. I think when someone is talking, someone should be listening, ”he said in 2012.
As judges have strived to be more respectful and inclusive in recent years, Sotomayor stressed that there was still work to be done to diversify the tribunal. This is especially necessary in what she called “professional diversity”, as there are no judges with experience in environmental law, immigration, criminal justice outside of white collar crime or even in civil rights.
“When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, we lost our only civil rights lawyer. There are no more civil rights lawyers on the ground, ”she said. “Some of my colleagues may dispute this because some of the work they did, on behalf of the government, may have included civil rights, but we don’t have a real lawyer who has been in the trenches on the civil rights issues, whether on women’s rights or racial rights or even rights of persons with disabilities.
Sotomayor said she considers herself hopeful by nature, but these shortcomings are cause for concern.
“There are so many areas of law that the court touches on and whose decisions have such a huge impact, that I fear that the authorities who select the judges do not pay enough attention to this kind of diversity as well,” a- she declared.