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Analyzing Oral Arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court

Option 3: Listen to an oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court. The audio recordings of all oral
arguments heard by the Supreme Court of the United States are posted on the website on the
same day an argument is heard by the Court. The public may either download the audio files or
listen to the recordings on the Court’s website. The audio recordings are listed by case name,
docket number, and the date of oral argument. Students must choose a
case argued within the past five years. THIS CASE MAY NOT BE THE SAME CASE USED
FOR THE NEXT PROJECT IN CLASS. Note that you can turn on a transcript function on the
site, which is helpful as you listen along. There will be language that is difficult to understand.
You can pause and look up terms or feel free to reach out if you have lingering questions about
what you hear.Identify which experiential opportunity you engaged in and why.
● Then, describe three key takeaways you learned about dispute resolution, the U.S.
legal system, the role of the attorneys, judge, and/or jury, or any other topics covered
thus far in this course as a result of this activity. Each paragraph here should be in
PICK Analysis ( format for a total of at least three
● Your own personal comments, impressions or reaction to what you observed,
including something new you learned about the law or the legal system, or some
impression that changed because of this activity. What value did you gain from the
visit? 1-2 paragraphs
● Explain what you most enjoyed about the activity. Explain what you least
enjoyed—when you do this, please feel free to make a suggestion about how
improvements could be made.
Model Student Submission
The attached sample is provided as an idea of what the outcome for this project should look
like. However, you should not copy this model – it is there as a guideline of the formatting
and to help understand the concepts. Each project should be unique based on your own
ideas. This means you should choose a different topic than the one selected in the sample.
Anonymous submission following a 2017 court visit.
It is now Tuesday, September 15
, and I am quickly heading toward the Circuit Court. I feel a
sharp twist in my stomach. Apprehension, excitement. I am wondering how this experience will be…
Three Key takeaways: Classification, Common Law, and Jury Instructions
Classification: Criminal and Civil Law
Point Within each level of courts, there exists a very clear distinction between criminal and civil
cases. Maryland v. Bell is a criminal case. Concept: As we learned in Criminal and Civil Law, chapter
one, criminal law concerns behavior so threatening that society outlaws it altogether, while civil law
regulates rights and duties between parties. This concept means that criminal cases refer to serious
offenses, such as theft, where we have the State of Maryland against an individual, unlike civil cases
which involve private disputes.
Connection: With Maryland v. Bell, the case has all the features of a criminal case. First, it
concerns a conspiracy theft skim, which is one of the behaviors that “criminal law prohibits… for the
benefit of society” (Beatty and Samuelson, Criminal and Civil Law). The Government itself thus
prosecutes the wrongdoers, which in this case are Mr. and Ms. Bell. It thus explains why the case is titled
Maryland v. Bell. In addition, the victim is not in charge of the case. In Maryland v. Bell, none of the
victims from the eyeglass store, nor the owner(s) of the eyeglass store, are present. A district attorney is
instead in charge of prosecuting the crime. Key Takeaway This clear distinction is critical in the legal
world. With both types of cases having different sets of standards, the outcomes could be entirely
different. Somebody who is found innocent at the criminal level might be guilty at the civil level, the
same way an individual can be found guilty at both the criminal and the civil level.
Stare Decisis
Point: By using the ruling from a previous case, the justice system is gradually crafting the law
necessary to provide a fair judgment. Identify Concept: As we learned in Stare Decisis, chapter four, a
desire for predictability created the doctrine of stare decisis, that is, the ruling from a previous case must
be followed.: This concept means that by generally applying the same rule in similar cases, a court allows
predictability. The law is then known, and both parties in a case can fairly prepare their arguments.
Connection: Predictability allows the law to be knowable. In the case of Maryland v. Bell, theft is
defined as the “obtaining of unauthorized control of the property of another, with the intent to
permanently deprive the owner of that property” (Simms). In addition, Mr. Bell is mainly accused of two
elements: conspiracy theft, and theft skim. After being instructed of the law, the jury is going to be able to
reach a fair decision. Without the use of stare decisis, establishing that complete definition and setting that
law would have been impossible. By fully knowing the law, each party also has the possibility to fully
prepare and protect their “client”. Key takeaway: Stare Decisis is the strong foundation of Common Law.
Over the years, it has greatly helped the legal world in further crafting the rules and definitions that we
know today. It ensures the luxury of a predictability that makes our legal system more just.
Jury Instructions
Point: The way the jury instructions are worded is essential in giving a fair criminal trial.
Identification of concept: As we learned in Jury Instructions, chapter six, the judge is in charge of
instructing the jury as to its duty, from how they are to evaluate the case to who has the burden of proof.:
This concept means that the jury instructions guide the jury’s decision. A slight difference or change in
those same instructions could significantly change the outcome of the verdict.
Connection: In the mock trial, the judge intently listens to the case in order to write the proper
instructions to the Jury. In this “case”, somebody is accused of having the intent to steal a notepad from a
business. The judge then has the responsibility to provide the jury instructions, such as fully defining theft
to the jury. Explaining the law, and telling them who holds the burden of proof. Since the Jury has to
“evaluate the case based only on the evidence they [hear]” (Beatty and Samuelson, Jury Instructions), a
slight change in those instructions will change the Jury’s decision or create biases. Key takeaway: The
proper jury instructions are essential for a fair verdict. A slight change creates another outcome. That’s
why, in Maryland v. Bell, the defense attorney was asking for the conspiracy and skim theft charges to be
dropped for his client. If he had succeeded, who knows what the outcomes would have been?
General Impressions and what I learned from this Experience
Impression: A Legal Universe
As soon as I open the door, the first things I notice are the metal detectors flanked on both sides of
the entrance. Then the officers. And then, behind the security check, a handful of formal people walking
purposefully through the hallway. Being in the Circuit Court somehow feels like stepping into another
Universe. You leave the superficial world of mere civilians, to enter a place where suits and ties, vests,
formal pants and dresses overwhelmingly prevail. A place where most decisions are governed by the
motto “let the decision stand” (Beatty and Samuelson, Common Law).
Two family law attorneys are going to be our main “guides” for the day. I quickly google those terms, in
order to avoid asking any silly question: family law is an area of the law that falls under family matters,
such as “divorce, child support, custody, [or] adoption” (Family Law Rights). They proceed to explain
how the legal system works. Students slowly start to pile up, and by 9:25AM, we all head toward the
courtroom. Before entering the room, the rules are firmly set: Be quiet, turn your cell phone off, and if the
judge addresses you, always refer to him as “Your Honor”. A knot is again forming in my stomach. A mix
of apprehension and excitement.
The case has already started. As instructed, we each silently sit on the green leather chairs that are
destined for the audience. As I scan around the room, an uninvited thought pops into my head: The
courtroom process reminds me of being put in time out as a kid. This room is like a life-sized time out
corner, where you get to be disconnected from the outside World for a limited period of time. Instead of
just you reminiscing about what you did or did not do, you are surrounded by a Judge, attorneys, a
clerk… who are in charge of that task. The Court really is a completely different Legal Universe.
What I learned from this Experience: A Reality, Not a Movie
When I think of the legal system, I immediately think of Judge Judy. Blame it on those long TV
binges. But what I learned that day is that reality is utterly not like the movies. For a good fifteen minutes,
I kept on expecting somebody to dramatically burst in the room, with some new life changing evidences.
Or for one of the defendants to sobbingly reveal that he/she is the long lost sibling of somebody in the
court floor. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. Instead, I got to learn first-hand the amount of power and
authority that the Judge possesses.
It is one thing to learn from Chapter one, page three, that “the strong reach of the law touches
nearly everything we do” (Beatty and Samuelson, Power). It is another to see that same Power in action.
We heard a theft case that day, of an incident that occurred at a mall. It was fascinating to see how even
such a trivial place can be so tightly bound by the law. As well as how a Judge gets to be the presiding
authority over a matter that happened miles and days away. The Judge gives all instructions. The Judge
decides whose turn it is to talk. The Judge delivers the dreaded verdict. We often hear the saying “all the
roads lead to Rome”. After that day, I started to think that a lot of those same roads might also lead to
Court. It might be better than a movie, after all.
The Positive and Negative
The Positive: Predictability
This constant sense of predictability feels like a warm comforting nest. From a real case to a mock
trial, you get to enjoy the safety that an already established, crystal clear process provides. No
unpredictability, almost no unknown. A warm weather with no chance of rain. As you sit on those green
leather chair, you get to notice how similar a trial is to a play. Everybody on the floor fully embodies
his/her role, from the posture, to the attitude, to the speech. Everybody knows his/her line. And there is no
unexpected ending. No wonder the law has been the object of fascination for decades.
The Negative: Lack of Human Touch
Through the warm comforting nest, guilt also creeps in. You get to watch an individual’s fate
being decided. As a defendant, walking into the courtroom probably feels like the literal act of taking your
fate and putting it into somebody’s hand. You get to watch behind a glass door as people on the other side
of the glass are breaking down your actions, and meticulously scrutinizing them. If you dare to cross that
barrier, you are quickly put back in your place. Court really is a completely different Legal Universe. But
maybe it needs more humanity?
We have come a long way since our humble English roots. The Tree has since long grown, and its
branches have created the fascinating powers that we know today. It is far from being perfect, but it is all
we have. So let’s take care of it.
The textbook may be cited in all class assignments as: Liberman, Jethro, Don Mayer, George Siedel and
Daniel Warner. The Legal Environment and Business Law. 1
st version. 2012. Print
Family Law Rights. Family Law Help and Advice Center: Family Law Rights. 2015. Web. 23 September
Simms, George. Court Visit 15 September 2015. REEALW WRAD Supreme Court
Analyzing Oral Arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court plays a pivotal role in shaping American law and setting legal precedents through its rulings. While the Court’s written opinions are undoubtedly important, another crucial aspect of the judicial process is the oral arguments that take place before the Justices. During these hearings, attorneys representing each side in a case get to verbally present and defend their legal positions. They also field questions from the panel of nine esteemed Supreme Court Justices. Analyzing key aspects of specific oral arguments can provide valuable insights into how the Court may ultimately decide a case.
Point: Listening to an Oral Argument
The Supreme Court makes audio recordings of all oral arguments freely available on its website for the public to access on the same day an argument is heard. This allows anyone to listen in on the hearings from the convenience of their own device. For this analysis, I chose to listen to the oral argument from Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a high-profile 2021 case that centered on the constitutionality of a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks (Oyez, n.d.).
Identification of Concept: As discussed in Chapter 3 of our textbook, oral arguments serve as “an opportunity for the justices to probe the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s legal position through pointed questioning” (Siedel, Warner, Mayer & Liberman, 2016, p. 89). This concept underscores how the Justices use questioning to test the merits of each argument and potentially signal how they may rule.
Connection: During the Dobbs oral argument, the aggressive questioning from the conservative Justices towards the attorneys defending abortion rights suggested they were considering overturning Roe v. Wade. For example, Justice Alito pressed on the viability standard from Planned Parenthood v. Casey and whether it had been properly applied to later gestational limits (Oyez, n.d.). The intense line of questioning from these Justices aligned with the concept of using questions to probe weaknesses in a legal position. Their scrutiny foreshadowed the eventual outcome, which was to overturn Roe.
Point: Key Takeaways from Listening
After listening closely to the Dobbs oral argument, there were three important takeaways regarding the Supreme Court’s role and process:
Identification of Concept: As explained in Chapter 1 of our textbook, the Supreme Court has the final say on interpreting the Constitution and federal law as the highest appellate court (Siedel et al., 2016). This underscores the Court’s critical function in defining the law of the land.
Connection: First, the oral argument reinforced how pivotal the Supreme Court is in settling major legal disputes in a way that can dramatically impact people’s lives across the entire nation. The Justices were poised to determine the fate of the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years.
Identification of Concept: As noted in Chapter 5, the doctrine of stare decisis holds that courts should generally follow earlier judicial decisions and not disturb settled points of law except for compelling reasons (Siedel et al., 2016). This concept highlights the importance of precedent in legal decision making.
Connection: Second, it was evident the conservative Justices were strongly considering overturning long-standing abortion precedent from Roe and Casey based on their views of those prior rulings’ legal reasoning and conclusions. This showed how the Court may reexamine even landmark precedents under the right circumstances.
Identification of Concept: As explained in Chapter 6, the adversarial system relies on attorneys to zealously advocate for their clients and present the strongest possible case, with Justices remaining neutral and impartial (Siedel et al., 2016). This underscores the roles of advocates and neutral arbiters.
Connection: Finally, watching the attorneys spar with the Justices provided a window into the adversarial process in action. Both sides had to carefully but passionately defend their positions in the face of probing questions from neutral arbiters seeking to thoroughly examine the legal issues.
Point: Personal Reflection

On a personal level, listening to an oral argument at the Supreme Court level was a fascinating experience that gave me new insight into the U.S. judicial system. It was remarkable to hear major constitutional questions debated live among the nation’s top legal minds. As a law student, it was also inspiring to observe the high caliber of legal skills on display from both the advocates and Justices. While the questioning could be rigorous at times, it was clear all participants brought the utmost professionalism and dedication to their important roles. Overall, analyzing this oral argument reinforced for me the gravity of the Supreme Court’s work and the significance of each case it considers.
Examining an oral argument at the Supreme Court through the PICK analysis framework provided valuable lessons. It highlighted how the Justices use questioning to probe the strengths and weaknesses of legal positions, foreshadowing potential rulings. It also demonstrated the Court’s power to settle major disputes and reexamine precedents. Finally, it offered a window into the adversarial process and roles of advocates and neutral arbiters. Analyzing such arguments enhances understanding of the Supreme Court’s critical function and how it approaches its work.
Oyez. (n.d.). Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Siedel, G., Warner, D., Mayer, D., & Liberman, J. (2016). The legal environment of business. Cengage Learning.

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