Starting Monday, the Supreme Court has scheduled six hours of oral arguments over three days to consider the constitutionality of health-care reform, the most time given to a case in more than 45 years. We’re certainly in for a historic event — but it might be an entertaining one, too.
Oral arguments are always theatrical: The lawyers stand only a few feet from the justices, who loom above them on a curved bench, and they are barraged with so many questions that they often have trouble completing a sentence. The hearings are also an opportunity for the traditionally secretive Supreme Court to cut loose. In fact, the Roberts court is known as a “hot bench” — not a reference to the unusual sexiness of the justices but to the fact that eight of the nine are unusually chatty during oral arguments (Justice Clarence Thomas hasn’t uttered a word since 2006). Even though the justices rarely change their minds during oral arguments if they already have strong views about a case, the hearings can clarify their thinking, offer some lively give and take, and occasionally lead to humor.