Supreme Court Justices Couldn't Stop Interrupting Each Other During DACA Oral Arguments

The current Supreme Court justices have earned something of a reputation for being a particularly vocal group, with a recent study finding justices are becoming more talkative, while parties are speaking less during oral arguments.

"The Supreme Court justices are talking. And they are talking more than ever during oral argument," Terry Skolnik, an assistant professor of law at the University of Ottawa in Canada, wrote in a paper published in the Boston College Law Review in September.

On Tuesday, however, as Law & Crime first pointed out, Supreme Court justices appeared to be especially talkative, with the justices repeatedly speaking over parties and one another during oral arguments on whether the Trump administration can end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The first interjection appeared to come within minutes of the start of proceedings, with Chief Justice John Roberts interrupting Solicitor General Noel Francisco, according to a transcript published by the Supreme Court.

As Francisco made the first point of his argument, Roberts appeared to cut him short, saying "What's your⁠—" before Francisco spoke over him, attempting to proceed.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Roberts apologized. "Go ahead."

Later on, justices and Francisco struggled to speak over each other as Justice Samuel Alito sought to ask the solicitor general a question, getting only so far as to ask "Was DACA—" before being cut off by Justice Elena Kagan, who asked for clarity on whether Francisco was suggesting that the original DACA was reviewable but the Trump administration's cancellation of the program was not.

Francisco sought to answer, before Kagan interrupted again. "They don't stand and fall together?" she asked.

Tuesday's oral arguments also appeared to be marked with repeated apologies for interruptions, with justices saying "sorry" at least seven times, with three of those apologies coming from Justice Neil Gorsuch.

At one point, Justice Sonia Sotomayor began to speak, saying, "May I ask⁠—" before being cut off by Gorsuch, who said: "If I–"

"I'm sorry," Sotomayor said, before Gorsuch responded: "I'm sorry." "No, no, continue," Sotomayor returned, before allowing the latter justice to continue questioning Francisco.

While the repeated interruptions may appear comical to some, a 2017 empirical study conducted by researchers at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law found that male justices interrupt female justices approximately three times as often as they interrupt each other during oral arguments.

Examining 15 years of transcripts of Supreme Court oral arguments, the study found that women did not have an "equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court of the land."

It also found that conservative justices were twice as likely to interrupt their liberal peers as vice versa.

Fears that the current Supreme Court, which has a five-justice Conservative majority, could permit the Trump administration to end the DACA program, which has allowed nearly 800,000 people brought to the U.S. by their parents to live and work in the U.S., are running high among immigration advocates after Tuesday's oral arguments.

Conservative justices on the Supreme Court appeared open to arguments supporting the government's ability to shut DACA down, while liberal justices appeared less receptive to the idea.

Supreme court
Immigration rights activists hold a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., November 12, 2019, as the Court hears arguments about ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
Supreme Court Justices Couldn't Stop Interrupting Each Other During DACA Oral Arguments | U.S.