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Are Oral Arguments Worth Arguing About?

Publication Date: 
May 05, 2012
The New York Times - Sunday Review
Adam Liptak

Lecturer Thomas C. Golstein was mentioned in Adam Liptak's New York Times article on the public's reactions to oral arguments heard before the Supreme Court.

SUPREME COURT advocacy is not usually a spectator sport, so it may have surprised Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. when the reviews of his defense of President Obama’s health care law started to roll in.

"Donald Verrilli makes the worst Supreme Court argument of all time," a blogger at Mother Jones wrote. A month later, Mr. Verrilli was back at the court, now asking it to strike down parts of Arizona’s tough immigration law. The Drudge Report’s assessment: "Obama’s lawyer chokes again."

It is true that Mr. Verrilli coughed and stumbled a bit at the beginning of the crucial second day of the health care argument, and it is possible to imagine crisper answers than some of the ones he gave. He may have suffered in comparison with Paul D. Clement, a dazzling advocate who faced off against him in both cases. And Mr. Verrilli may have been thrown off his game by hostile receptions that he did not anticipate.


Mr. Verrilli is not alone in emerging from a Supreme Court argument a little bruised, said Thomas C. Goldstein, who founded Scotusblog and argues frequently in the Supreme Court.

"The court's conservatives are incredibly effective questioners," he said, meaning that "your take-away from the argument is going to be that the advocate for the more liberal side just wasn't as good."