The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was usually a stickler during Supreme Court oral arguments, cutting lawyers off in mid-syllable when the red light went on at the end of their allotted time. In his later years he’d occasionally ease up and let a lawyer go on for a few seconds if a barrage of questions from justices had dominated their rebuttal time, but usually Rehnquist was strict.
Much to the relief of advocates, John Roberts Jr. — Rehnquist’s successor and one-time law clerk — has relaxed Rehnquist’s standards. It’s not uncommon for him to let lawyers finish their thoughts after the red light goes on, and he’ll add extra rebuttal time if he feels it’s needed for fairness. Roberts’ different approach was on display Wednesday during the dense and complex arguments in Samantar v. Yousuf, which asks whether former officials of foreign governments are immune from lawsuits under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
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