This week the Supreme Court heard the final oral arguments of the 2017-18 term.
The attorneys who argue before the justices have never had it easy. One of the toughest questioners in history was Justice Felix Frankfurter, who served on the Court from 1939 to 1962. A former Harvard Law professor, Frankfurter used oral argument as an opportunity to treat “lawyers before the bar as students, heckling them as he had done in class,” the historian Melvin Urofsky observed in a 1988 Duke Law Journal article. On average Frankfurter spoke 1,300 words per case, a ferocious verbal outpouring that far exceeded that of any other justice in history, at least as far back as oral argument records exist.
But is oral argument an even more trying experience today? And are the justices’ questions and comments more ideologically freighted than in past eras?