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Supreme Court Changes Format to Correct Slight to Female Justices

They were being interrupted more than their male colleagues
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2021 7:05 PM CDT
Supreme Court Changes Format to Correct Slight to Female Justices
In this April 23, 2021, file photo Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor sits during a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington.   (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool, File)

(Newser) – The Supreme Court is only days into its new term, but there's already been a marked change. As CNN reports, "even in contentious cases, the justices haven't cut each other off—something that often occurred in past terms." That's the result of a change to the format of oral arguments, stemming from research showing female justices were interrupted at disproportionate rates by male justices and advocates, Justice Sonia Sotomayor revealed Wednesday during a talk on diversity and inclusion at the New York University School of Law.

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"Most of the time women say things and they are not heard in the same way as men who might say the identical thing," Sotomayor said, per CNN. She said she'd observed this on the court "without question." But the research—including a 2017 study by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers of Northwestern University—had an "enormous impact" and resulted in Chief Justice John Roberts being "much more sensitive" to the issue, she added. There is still a "traditional free-for-all" period in which the justices question lawyers, but they now have the opportunity to speak uninterrupted, in order of seniority, once lawyers wrap up their time, CBS News reports.

Earlier this month, Sotomayor spoke on another topic of particular concern to women, Texas' new abortion law. "You know, I can't change Texas' law, but you can and everyone else who may or may not like it can go out there and be lobbying forces in changing laws that you don't like," she said at an event hosted by the American Bar Association, per CNN. "I am pointing out to that when I shouldn't because they tell me I shouldn't," she added, referring to a standard of justices not speaking publicly about cases before the court. The court is expected to decide on whether to overturn Roe v. Wade this term. (Read more Sonia Sotomayor stories.)

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