Book studies influence of oral argument

For Matthew Roberts, the inner workings of the court system are an exciting area of study.  

“There’s something fascinating about courts,” said Roberts, instructional designer for Information Technology. “They’re less understood by the public, and less transparent, especially the Supreme Court.”

Published in 2011 by LFB Scholarly Publishing, “Oral Argument and Amicus Curiae” examines the role that third parties, known as amicus curiae, play in the Supreme Court’s oral arguments. These parties present information to assist a court in making its decision about a case while not having a direct connection to either of the main parties involved in the trial.

“Courts allow this outside input in order to make an informed decision,” said Roberts. “The justices are political just like everybody else, but politics can’t be the entire story. In half of all Supreme Court cases, at least one justice ends up changing their vote. I believe that oral argument has some impact on that, as do the amici.”

Roberts’ interest grew out of work he did in graduate school at the University of Minnesota. When conducting research for the book, he dug through legal directories to find biographical information on the attorneys representing different amicus curiae. He also used judicial research databases to find cases that had third party groups present and examined the possible effects the groups had on the cases’ rulings.

Despite the importance that Roberts believes amicus curiae have in the court system, their role in oral argument is largely overlooked in the literature, something he hopes to change. “If it gets mentioned at all, it gets half a sentence,” said Roberts. “I want to add another dimension to the discussion. I also want to add more detail — we need a better idea of what happens in this special time of oral argument.”


Page last modified September 10, 2012