New Scholarship: “The Loudest Voice at the Supreme Court”

Darcy Covert & A.J. Wang have posted “The Loudest Voice at the Supreme Court: The Solicitor General’s Dominance of Amicus Oral Argument” on SSRN. The NYTs profiled the article here.

Here is the abstract:

Over the last century, amicus participation in oral argument at the Supreme Court has become common, but only for one litigant: the Office of the Solicitor General of the United States (“OSG”). Between the 2010 and 2017 Terms, the Court granted only 8 of 26 motions for amicus oral argument by litigants other than OSG. During that time, it granted 252—all but 1—of such motions by OSG. Since the early 2000s, OSG has often argued more frequently in a Term as an amicus than as a party.

This Article presents the first history of amicus oral argument and how OSG came to dominate this practice. Drawing on an original database of every motion for amicus oral argument filed from 1889 through 2017, we offer the first quantitative history of the practice of amicus oral argument before the Court. We supplement this with a qualitative account of the historical and modern use of amicus oral argument based on archival research and interviews with frequent Supreme Court litigators, including current and former members of OSG. We find that the Court grants OSG virtually unlimited access to amicus oral argument without regard to the strength of the federal interest or the political nature of a given case.

The Court’s special solicitude towards OSG has profound consequences. The Solicitor General already occupies a special role at the Court as the “Tenth Justice.” We argue that OSG’s seemingly unlimited ability to appear before the Court systematically biases the perspectives heard at the Court and therefore undermines due process principles and the adversarial process. We conclude with a proposal for reform.