You can ask the Supreme Court to give you a chance to come to a hearing before the Court decides your case. This is called "oral argument." At oral argument you can explain the reasons you think the trial court or agency decision should be changed or kept the same. The argument may be before the full Court or a panel of three justices. At this oral argument, the Court listens to both sides and often asks questions. To prepare for your own argument, you can listen to recordings from past arguments. The calendar for hearing cases is available a month before the hearing dates.

Requesting Oral Argument

Once the briefs are complete, you have a chance to ask for oral argument. You must do so in writing.

If you do not have an oral argument, the court will decide your case based on the written briefs. These are called conference cases.

The court generally issues its calendar, listing the argument dates and cases scheduled, 30 days in advance of the argument. Your case will be decided either by the full court of five justices or by a panel of three justices. This will depend on the issues raised in your case.

Three-Justice Panel Arguments

Generally, your case will be decided by a three-justice panel when the issues raised involve settled law. The court usually schedules one day each month for hearing three-justice panel cases.

Arguments before three-justice panels last 10 minutes. Each side has five minutes to argue, including questions from and answers to the justices.

In three-justice panel cases, you may appear in person or by video conference. If you want to appear by video, you must arrange it and must notify the court no later than three business days before the scheduled argument date.

If you are incarcerated, you may present oral argument by telephone. If you are not incarcerated, you may request permission to appear by telephone by filing a motion:

(800-00004)

You should file this at least three days before the scheduled argument date.

The panel’s decision must be unanimous. The panel usually issues a short written decision within 48 hours of argument.

Full-Court Arguments

Your case will be decided by the full Court of five justices when the case may establish a new rule of law or involve a legal issue of substantial public interest.

Arguments before the full court usually last for 30 minutes. Each side has 15 minutes to argue. This includes the time spent on questions from and answers to the justices.

There is no right to appear by video or by telephone in full-court cases. You must request to do so by motion.

(800-00004)

The Court hears cases during a term, which is scheduled over one to three days. The court holds a term during most months.

What to Expect at Oral Argument

One way to prepare for your own oral argument is to watch other arguments. If you are not the first argument scheduled on your day, you should come early to watch arguments before yours.

Before a typical session begins, the bailiff talks to the parties who are preparing to argue to find out how to pronounce their names, whether they want a warning light when they are running out of time, and whether they have any questions. The bailiff is seated at the left in the courtroom facing the bench where the justices sit. The appellant takes a seat at the table on the right side of the courtroom. The appellee sits at the table on the left.

To open a court session, the bailiff stands and bangs a gavel. The justices enter the courtroom from their chambers. All persons in the courtroom rise. The bailiff announces, "The Honorable, the Supreme Court." Once the justices are seated, the bailiff announces the case number, the case name, and the attorney or self-represented litigant arguing the case. The bailiff bangs the gavel again. All persons in the courtroom sit down. The chief justice sits in the middle chair at the bench.

The appellant argues first. The appellant stands at the lectern that faces the court in the middle of the room. (If you are tall, you should lift up the step attached to the podium. If you are not, you should stand on that step so that all of the justices can see you.) Sometimes people read prepared statements. Sometimes justices ask questions to clarify points or to get additional information to help them reach a decision. The bailiff signals when the appellant's time to argue is finished by lighting a solid red light on the lectern in front of the appellant.

Appellants often ask the bailiff to flash the red light early, well before their time is up, so that they can save some of their time for rebuttal. "Rebuttal" is the appellant's chance to stand up a second time to respond to the appellee's arguments. You can argue in rebuttal only if you have saved some of your allotted time. It is up to you to stop and sit down to reserve the remaining time for rebuttal. Even if the questions from the justices cause you to use up your time, you cannot come back to make a rebuttal argument unless you have allotted time left.

When the appellant has finished speaking, the appellee argues.

After the appellee finishes, if the appellant has any time left, the appellant may speak once more in rebuttal.

When the argument is over, the court may pause to allow the bailiff to set up the parties for the next argument. If there is no other scheduled argument, the bailiff stands and bangs the gavel for exit. All persons in the courtroom rise as the justices file out.

During the courtroom session, flash photography is not permitted. The lobby and corridors near the courtroom are kept quiet.