The Supreme Court has called for 5 1/2 hours of oral arguments on the health law, reports the Wall Street Journal. That’s the longest in recent decades and harks back to the court’s custom in the 19th century. The overwhelming majority of cases nowadays receive just an hour of argument time before the court, thanks to a rule change in 1970.
Oral arguments have grown steadily shorter as the court has evolved. In the 1950s and 1960s, arguments “seemed to go on forever,” one expert told the paper. In 1966, arguments in South Carolina’s challenge to the Voting Rights Act lasted more than seven hours. Arguments in 1955 over enforcement of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which outlawed racial segregation in public schools, went on for more than 13 hours over several days. Before 1849, there were no time limits on oral arguments. Over time, the court’s workload increased, as did its reliance on written legal briefs and legal precedent, making the long arguments burdensome and unnecessary.