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Thursday, November 10, 2022

SCOTUS questioning

What should we call the Justice-by-Justice questioning tacked onto the open questioning in SCOTUS arguments. (This is a vestige of the process from telephone arguments during COVID). During Tuesday's Mallory arguments, Justice Sotomayor called it "round-robin," a term I have used informally. But that does not seem accurate--a round-robin is a tournament format in which every team faces one another. Obviously the Justices do not face one another. And round-robin does not describe one competitor facing each of nine opponents.

In a more formal writing, I used  "serial questioning" or "sequential questioning," either more accurate. This is a series of questions by a series of Justices, asked sequentially.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 10, 2022 at 07:08 AM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink


Last call.

Posted by: Thom | Nov 15, 2022 12:59:18 PM

In prep for Supreme Court arguments in this format and the prior telephonic format, we've always called it seriatim questioning.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Nov 11, 2022 7:05:53 PM

"Questioning ad seriatim" echoes the congressional use of the term in considering amendments. Also, it probably describes the way justices act on court business: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/17/200.42. Unless you're going to modify the terms certiorari, mandamus, etc., it's probably more consistent to use seriatim.

Posted by: Jas. Madison | Nov 11, 2022 12:43:07 PM

One Merriam-Webster definition of "round robin" is:

"something (such as a letter) sent in turn to the members of a group each of whom signs and forwards it sometimes after adding comment"

I basically agree with kotodama.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 10, 2022 8:56:33 PM

I suppose "seriatim questioning" or something similar is too archaic sounding.

Posted by: GEY | Nov 10, 2022 4:54:02 PM

Yes, if you specifically said the questioning was happening as a "round-robin tournament" that wouldn't be accurate. But I don't see the problem with just calling it "round-robin" questioning. Everyone understands that "round-robin" more generally refers to people taking turns engaging in some kind of activity. Here the activity would be asking questions. I don't think that's "informal"; it's just the common, everyday meaning of the term.

Context matters too. In the context of SCOTUS oral argument, no sane person would think "round-robin questioning" means each Justice taking turns questioning, not the advocates, but the other Justices. That would be quite silly.

Japanese, naturally, has a very succinct term to describe what's going on—"rinbansei"—but sadly it doesn't translate nicely.

Also, query whether "serial questioning" is even an improvement. Many times "serial" is used in a way that means "repeated"; for example, a serial monogamist. So one might think "serial questioning" just means repeatedly questioning the advocates, not necessarily taking turns among Justices. Of course, context does factor in here as well.

"sequential questioning" could be problematic too in that one might envision the questions themselves being in a sequence rather than a sequence of Justices asking questions.

In the end, I actually think "round-robin" is a less confusing and more fitting way to describe the situation compared to other candidates.

Posted by: kotodama | Nov 10, 2022 9:54:10 AM

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