Remote simulation: prepare to debate in the Supreme Court over the phone


The Supreme Court Research Institute usually prepares a moot court for the defenders to make oral arguments. Like the real Supreme Court court, it has been empty during the pandemic. (Provided by the Supreme Court Research Institute)

The Supreme Court has not announced whether it will resume normal operations at the beginning of October 2021-22.This article is a forum About how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the courts — and which of these changes are worth keeping.

Debbie Shrager is the director of the Supreme Court Institute. Special thanks to Assistant Director Sarah Naiman for helping SCI become the standard bearer of the Zoom mock debate.

For more than 20 years, the Supreme Court Institute of Law in Georgetown has been helping advocates prepare for oral arguments before judges. In our “moot court”, we have been trying to preview as much of the real debate experience as possible. This even includes a mini-court with a design similar to the real court at No. 1 First Street.

Therefore, when the courts closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and engaged in remote debates, we had to adapt.Our moot court procedure is a Public Service, Our mission is to promote high-quality defense in the Supreme Court, regardless of the position of the defender-including serving the defender, regardless of the form of the argument itself.

Moot courts have multiple goals for advocates: experience similar to what the advocates experience in court, delve into the most difficult issues that advocates may face, and help find the best arguments and best answers to these questions. For face-to-face arguments, preparing for the “real thing” means trying to replicate the justice’s free questioning. To allow more questions to be asked, the SCI mock debate includes one hour of questions—twice the standard 30 minutes of face-to-face debates for most defenders in court.

When the judges began to debate remotely, they made some changes. The judges take turns asking questions according to seniority, and each has a time limit, depending on the total time allocated for the debate-in most cases, each judge is about three minutes. The advocate dialed into the conference call, but couldn’t see the judge. The advocate has two minutes to start and one minute to end.

We organized a moot court to prepare defenders for all debates except for remote court debates. Some advocates are experienced Supreme Court litigation lawyers who are very accustomed to the traditional face-to-face experience. Under such unusual conditions, others are making their debut in the High Court.

In order to prepare for the proponents of the new format, we provide a mock debate on Zoom. Advocates call to attend meetings, or log in and turn off their computer screens, so they cannot see the judges in the moot court. Most mock debates include one or two rounds of case-by-case interrogation with a limit of three minutes. Then, to help advocates refine their arguments and answers, we provide additional case-by-case questions without a clock or traditional free questions. As we did during face-to-face debates, we also spent the same amount of time for feedback-although in this part of the meeting, advocates joined the meeting via video to make it easier to discuss mock debates with the group.

Remote argumentation does not require the defender to make too many changes in the preparation of substantive arguments. It does require them to consider how the transmission of the argument will be different. Two adjustments are the most difficult. First, the oral argument agreement, whether in person or remotely, stipulates that when the judge speaks, the defender immediately stops speaking. Without visual clues, it is much easier to talk about the judge’s issues. To avoid this, advocates of every level of experience need to practice, and this is the first time they decide how to best listen to the judge, whether it’s using a headset or using a speakerphone. The court staff conducted an audio test on each defender before the debate-some calls were rejected!

Second, advocates must time the length and speed of the answers so that they can schedule about two answers in the three minutes allocated by each judge. This is a big change from face-to-face arguments, when supporters’ time to answer questions was very different. The court staff cautioned defenders to answer the justices’ questions concisely and concisely—it’s always good advice for any form of argument, but it’s more important when trying to give each justice enough time to ask questions.

Looking to the future, if the court resumes face-to-face debate and traditional free questioning, we are likely to return to the traditional moot court format. This is a proven method of preparing advocates for true arguments, and anything we have learned from the past year shows that it can be improved. The SCI staff hope we can deactivate the virtual timer!

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