What is an Oral Argument?
Florida Supreme Court offers the following definition of an Oral Argument:
Oral argument is not really an “argument.” Rather it is more like a high-powered conversation between the justices and the attorneys. The attorneys have an opportunity to add to the arguments contained in their briefs (written arguments submitted to the court before oral argument). Oral argument also lets the attorneys clear up misconceptions or questions raised by their briefs.
A case selected for argument usually involves interpretations of the U. S. Constitution or federal law. At least four Justices have selected the case as being of such importance that the Supreme Court must resolve the legal issues.
An attorney for each side of a case will have an opportunity to make a presentation to the Court and answer questions posed by the Justices. Prior to the argument each side has submitted a legal brief—a written legal argument outlining each party’s points of law. The Justices have read these briefs prior to argument and are thoroughly familiar with the case, its facts, and the legal positions that each party is advocating.
Participants in the Courtroom Include:
Justices. The Justices enter the Courtroom through three entrances behind the Bench. The Chief Justice and two senior Associate Justices enter through the center, and three Associate Justices enter through each side.
Clerk. The Clerk of the Supreme Court or his representative sits to the left of the Bench. His responsibilities in the Courtroom include providing the Justices with materials about the case if the Justices desire additional documents and notifying the appropriate Court personnel when an opinion can be released to the public. He also swears in new members of the Supreme Court Bar.
Marshal. The Marshal or the Marshal’s representative sits to the right side of the Bench. The Marshal’s roles are to call the Court to order, maintain decorum in the Courtroom, tape the audio portions of argument, and time the oral presentations so that attorneys do not exceed their one-half hour limitations.
Marshal’s Aides. Marshal’s Aides are seated behind the Justices. They often carry messages to the Justices or convey messages from a Justice to a member of his or her staff.
Attorneys. The attorneys scheduled to argue cases are seated at the tables facing the Bench. The arguing attorney will stand behind the lectern immediately in front of the Chief Justice. On the lectern there are two lights. When the white light goes on, the attorney has five minutes remaining to argue. The red light indicates that the attorney has used all the allotted time.
Law clerks, special guests and news media may also be present at an oral argument. All oral arguments are open to the public with limited seating allocated, which is based on first-come, first-seated basis.