"I'm Speaking" : Gender and Interrupting Behavior During Oral Argument at the U.S. Supreme Court


  • Kaira Brown Vanderbilt University


Women are historically and presently underrepresented in the U.S. Supreme Court. More specifically, from 2000 to 2013, only 14.2% of lawyers who argued before the Supreme Court were women despite making up about 51% of the U.S. population and 37.4% of American lawyers. Between those same years, women made up between 22% and 33% of Supreme Court justices. Not only are women underrepresented within the Court, but they also experience discrimination. Researchers Patton and Smith (2020) evaluated the relationship between lawyer gender and the interruptions they experience when arguing before the court and found that justices demonstrated more interrupting behavior in quantity and length of interrupting behavior for female lawyers compared to male ones at a statistically significant level. A follow up study by Patton and Smith (2021) showed that the disproportionate interruption of female lawyers was more likely to come from male and/or conservative justices. Jacobi and Schweers (2017) noted similar statistically significant gendered speech patterns among the justices themselves, with female justices being disproportionately interrupted at a higher rate and male justices disproportionately interrupting at a greater rate. In addition, lawyers are more likely to find success, as defined by receiving the votes of a justice, if they adhere to gender norms within their oral argument (Gleason, 2020). These conclusions suggest that the substantive representation of women in the Supreme Court is limited not just by their numerical disadvantage but also by the systematic limitation of women’s speech during oral argument through verbal interruptions and the enforcement of gender norms.






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