It is early days, but we thought it worth a preliminary look at the justices’ and the advocates’ relative participation at oral argument in the 2019 Term. The graph below shows the number of words spoken in by each group, in aggregate, in the 15 cases heard so far this Term, and in the 71 cases heard last Term, for context.
As illustrated, there is considerable variation in participation between cases, with some controversies inspiring more words from both the justices and the advocates, some from one or the other, and some quiet cases, such as the very first case, Kahler v. Kansas, a murky death penalty case. But the overall trends are, so far, indistinguishable from last Term.
The picture is more interesting when looked at broken down by individual justice, as in the next graph. Last Term, we showed that Justice Kavanaugh gained momentum after a quiet start, following his highly controversial confirmation hearings. That trend has continued this Term, with Kavanaugh overtaking fellow conservatives, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch, though not yet Justice Alito. No word from Justice Thomas this Term as yet.
Also apparent is that Justice Ginsburg continues to increase her verbal contribution at oral argument, a good sign of her improving health. She is still relatively quiet compared to the other liberal justices. Indeed, other than Justice Ginsburg, we see the same liberal/conservative divide as last Term. The liberal justices speak more than the conservative justices, even as the conservatives dominate the Court in terms of decision-making.
We will report more as the Court says more throughout the Term.