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Guide to Oral Arguments

Oral arguments are a presentation to the Supreme Court to emphasize legal points.



Supreme Court oral arguments

An oral argument is an oral presentation attorneys make to the court. It is an opportunity for attorneys to emphasize certain legal points and for the appellate court to ask questions. It is not an opportunity to raise new facts or new legal arguments. Attorneys must limit their presentations to information in the trial court record and to legal issues raised on appeal.

The appellant (party who filed the appeal) speaks first. The appellee (opposing party) speaks next. The appellant may follow with a brief rebuttal or reply argument. Justices may ask the attorneys questions.

Oral arguments are always open to the public. The court’s docket is available online, as is a livestream of all the court’s proceedings.

Supreme Court dockets
Oral argument livestream
Oral argument archive
 

Appeals process

An appeal transfers a case from a trial court to a higher court—an appellate court—for review of the lower court decision or judgment to ensure the law has been followed.

An appellate court does not preside over trials. Appellate court hearings do not involve witnesses, juries, new evidence, or court reporters. Instead, an appellate court reviews the written record of the trial court to determine whether any significant legal errors occurred during the trial. The trial court record includes the evidence admitted during the trial, transcripts of witness testimony, and rulings from the trial court.

Appellate procedure requires that parties provide the court with written arguments called briefs. Briefs describe the facts of the case and lay out the parties’ legal arguments. The appellate court studies the briefs, examines the trial court record, and researches relevant law. As part of its review, the appellate court may hear oral argument from the attorneys for the parties.

Sometimes during oral arguments, a justice will refer to briefs or other materials such as Kansas statutes. The Kansas appellate courts have made the transition to electronic documents, so some justices store case briefs and other legal materials on their laptop computers.
 

Appellate court decisions

The appellate court can:

  • Affirm: uphold the decision or order of the lower court.

  • Reverse: set aside the decision or order of the lower court.

  • Remand: return to the trial court with instructions, such as ordering a new trial.

Following oral arguments, the court will discuss in private the legal questions raised in the case. Later, one justice assigned the task of writing the collective decision of the court will begin drafting the court’s decision, which is called an opinion. At the same time, the other members of the court are also writing opinions for other cases. 

Opinion drafts circulate among members of the court. The justices comment on the circulating opinion drafts and debate legal points with each other. This process continues until a majority of justices agree on a final version of an opinion. 

A justice who disagrees with the majority opinion may write a dissent that explains why the justice disagrees. A justice who agrees with the result, but not necessarily for the same reasons, may write a special concurrence.

Court decisions are posted on the Kansas judicial branch website as soon as they are released, typically around 9:30 a.m. Friday, although they can be released any day. 
 



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