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U.S. Supreme Court Adopts Hybrid Argument Format for New Term

Sept. 21, 2021, 5:17 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court adopted hybrid oral argument procedures for the term beginning Oct. 4, combining the question formats used before and during the pandemic as the justices return to the courtroom.

Arguments will again feature the free-for-all style of questioning, where each justice jumps in as desired. But sittings will also incorporate the turn-based questioning put in place for arguments conducted over the phone during the pandemic.

“Once an attorney’s time has expired, each Justice will have the opportunity to question that attorney individually,” according to the court’s updated “Guide for Counsel” that was released on Tuesday.

Since May 2020, oral arguments have taken place remotely and live-streamed to the public. To accommodate the remote format, the justices took turns asking questions in order of seniority.

That format encouraged questions from Justice Clarence Thomas, who was known for infrequently asking them during the pre-pandemic, free-for-all style. But it also led to more stunted discussion, with justices unable to follow-up.

The justices decided on a hybrid model for their return to in-person arguments this fall—with 30 minutes of open questioning followed by an opportunity for each to query advocates individually in turn.

The court instructed attorneys to “respond directly to the questions posed,” and not “make additional arguments not responsive to the question.”

The upcoming term will include high-profile cases on abortion, gun rights, and possibly affirmative action. Arguments will again be live-streamed as attendance in the courtroom will be restricted.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; John Crawley at

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