Chief Justice Burger and the Bench: How Physically Changing the Shape of the Court's Bench Reduced Interruptions during Oral Argument

Chief Justice Burger and the Bench: How Physically Changing the Shape of the Court's Bench... During the first oral argument of the Supreme Court's February 1972 sitting, Justice Blackmun scrawled the following in his notes: “New bench separates Brennan and White, hurrah!” The reason for Blackmun's glee? Chief Justice Burger recently hired carpenters to cut the Court's straight bench into thirds so it would resemble a U‐shape that wrapped toward the lectern from which counsel argue cases. The change meant that Blackmun would no longer have to sit immediately next to Justices Brennan and White and hear them chit chat during oral argument. The bench angle would now separate them. More broadly, the change meant the Justices could see each other better and more clearly hear one another's questions during oral argument. In short, Burger's hope was that this curved bench would minimize the occurrence of Justices talking over one another while questioning the attorneys.Did Burger's bench change actually transform how the Justices behaved at oral argument? To answer this question, we analyze the oral argument transcripts from the 1962 to the 1982 Court terms. These data reflect all cases the Court heard ten terms prior to the bench change and ten terms subsequent to the change. Using these data, we examine whether, after http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Supreme Court History Wiley

Chief Justice Burger and the Bench: How Physically Changing the Shape of the Court's Bench Reduced Interruptions during Oral Argument

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Publisher
Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company
Copyright
© Supreme Court Historical Society
ISSN
1059-4329
eISSN
1540-5818
D.O.I.
10.1111/jsch.12166
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

During the first oral argument of the Supreme Court's February 1972 sitting, Justice Blackmun scrawled the following in his notes: “New bench separates Brennan and White, hurrah!” The reason for Blackmun's glee? Chief Justice Burger recently hired carpenters to cut the Court's straight bench into thirds so it would resemble a U‐shape that wrapped toward the lectern from which counsel argue cases. The change meant that Blackmun would no longer have to sit immediately next to Justices Brennan and White and hear them chit chat during oral argument. The bench angle would now separate them. More broadly, the change meant the Justices could see each other better and more clearly hear one another's questions during oral argument. In short, Burger's hope was that this curved bench would minimize the occurrence of Justices talking over one another while questioning the attorneys.Did Burger's bench change actually transform how the Justices behaved at oral argument? To answer this question, we analyze the oral argument transcripts from the 1962 to the 1982 Court terms. These data reflect all cases the Court heard ten terms prior to the bench change and ten terms subsequent to the change. Using these data, we examine whether, after

Journal

Journal of Supreme Court HistoryWiley

Published: Jan 1, 2018

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