Supreme Court tries to cool hot bench, allows lawyers to speak without interruption

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By Pete Williams  with NBC News Politics
Image: U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington on April 19, 2018.   -   Copyright  Robert Alexander Getty Images file

The US Supreme Court is trying a new approach to temper the number of questions that justices fire at the lawyers who appear before them during oral arguments.

A change to the court's pamphlet offering advice to arguing counsel says that the justices will try their best not to interrupt the lawyers for the first two minutes of their half-hour of allotted time.

"The Court generally will not question lead counsel for petitioners (or appellants) and respondents (or appellees) during the first two minutes of argument," it says. "The white light on the lectern will illuminate briefly at the end of this period to signal the start of questioning. Where argument is divided and counsel represents an amicus or an additional party, the white light will illuminate after one minute."

For the past several years, the court has been described as "a hot bench," with the justices asking more questions and seldom allowing lawyers to get out a sentence or two before the barrage begins. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has established herself as an especially persistent questioner.

The court said the new system will be in place when its fall term begins on Monday.