Oral Arguments and Coalition Formation on the U.S. Supreme Court

A Deliberate Dialogue
Ryan C. Black, Timothy R. Johnson, and Justin Wedeking

Oral arguments are a key aspect of the Supreme Court's decision-making process


The U.S. Supreme Court, with its controlled, highly institutionalized decision-making practices, provides an ideal environment for studying coalition formation. The process begins during the oral argument stage, which provides the justices with their first opportunity to hear one another's attitudes and concerns specific to a case. This information gathering allows them eventually to form a coalition.

In order to uncover the workings of this process, the authors analyze oral argument transcripts from every case decided from 1998 through 2007 as well as the complete collection of notes kept during oral arguments by Justice Lewis F. Powell and Justice Harry A. Blackmun. Both justices clearly monitored their fellow justices' participation in the discussion and used their observations to craft opinions their colleagues would be likely to support. This study represents a major step forward in the understanding of coalition formation, which is a crucial aspect of many areas of political debate and decision making.

Ryan C. Black is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University.

Timothy R. Johnson is Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

Justin Wedeking is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kentucky.

Praise / Awards

  • "This book presents highly original research that couples new data with novel arguments. I really enjoyed reading it and was provoked into thinking much more about the role of oral argument than I have in the past."
    —Tom Hansford, University of California, Merced

  • "This book is a wonderful addition to the current literature on both the oral argument and coalition formation processes at the U.S. Supreme Court. It is of scholarly importance, well-written, and a fun read."
    —Artemus Ward, Northern Illinois University

Look Inside

Supplemental Materials

Audio Files
Listen to the exchanges discussed in the book

Bush v. Gore (1)
Bush v. Gore (2)
Bush v. Gore (3)
McConnell v. FEC (1)
McConnell v. FEC (2)
Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District of Nevada 
Batson v. Kentucky (1)
Batson v. Kentucky (2)
Batson v. Kentucky (3)
Cruzan v. Missouri Dept. of Health

Color Reproduction of Notes
Figure 4
Justice Blackmun's notes in U.S. v. R.L.C.
Figure 10
Justice Powell's notes from Batson v. Kentucky
Figure 11
Justice Blackmun's notes from Batson v. Kentucky
Figure 15
Justice Blackmun's notes in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union
Figure 25
Justice Blackmun's predictions in Cruzan 
Figure 26
Justice Blackmun's predictions in Spallone

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 160pp.
  • 4 tables, 34 figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11846-5

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  • $74.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03579-3

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  • $31.95 U.S.

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  • Law, United States Supreme Court, Supreme Court Decision-making, Supreme Court Oral Arguments, Oral Advocacy, Legal Argumentation, Coalitions, Coalition Formation, Small group interactions, Elite decision-making, Supreme Court Justices, Lewis F. Powell, Harry A. Blackmun