Men interrupt female Supreme Court Justices more often than their male associates. A 2017 academic study quantified the problem:
Now, during their first phone-in session, it happened again.
Where are we going? To the number of interruptions and their impact.
You know how the Marshal calls the Court to order:
Then, after the Chief Justice identifies the case, oral arguments start. The attorneys have a 2-minute opening statement. After that, the justices express their comments and questions.
The Conference Call
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Court had to hear cases on the phone. All began somewhat similarly. The call to order was slightly edited, and counsel presented their 2-minute talks. After that, the Justices had to observe a predetermined sequence. Chief Justice Roberts was first to talk and then, in order of seniority, the other Justices.
During their conference call, the Chief Justice was both a timekeeper and a moderator. When a Justice exceeded her or his speaking time, the Chief could cut them off. And that was the problem. More than the men, he interrupted the women. More than the men, he had the women stop when they exceeded their allotted time. Although the longest questioning periods came from the male Justices, the females were told their time was up more frequently.
During the call’s 10 cases, the Chief Justice interrupted his fellow Justices 11 times. However, he cut off female justices nine out of those 11 times. For example, he gave Justice Alito two extra minutes to ask more questions. But when Justice Sotomayor expressed a similar request, she got 19 seconds. In addition, Justice Sotomeyor had her questioning sessions ended the most. But nine out of 10 instances, she was not one of the longer speakers.
We should note that Justice Roberts has not been criticized for an intentional gender bias. In the courts, in business, at home, and at work, women are interrupted more than men. And yet, I have read (and cannot confirm) that men talk more.
Our Bottom Line: Human Capital
Supreme Court Justices have considerable human capital.
To imagine what we mean by human capital, please think of a person as you would a factory. Adding education (human capital) to people is like purchasing new machinery (physical capital) for factories. In factories an enhanced supply of physical capital boosts the goods and services we produce. More human capital also can fuel productivity.
In the Supreme Court, the Justices’ human capital is evident in their questions, their comments, and their opinions. When female Justices are prevented from expressing their human capital, we lose the value of their insight and their influence.
My sources and more: The NY Times and this 2020 paper looked at Supreme Court interruptions. In addition, Justice, Interrupted was an excellent podcast as was this Quartz article and this paper. Then, if you want more interruption research, this Stanford paper and this one from George Washington University are possibilities.