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Multi-hour arguments heard at Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will hear six hours of argument over President Barack Obama's health care law, its longest argument in almost 45 years. Since 1970, most cases have been allotted only one hour, down from two before that. The best-known recent multi-hour arguments are far from the longest in modern history:


— McConnell v. Federal Election Commission: Four hours, five minutes on Sept. 8, 2003. The court upheld the ban on "soft money" campaign contributions in the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002.

— Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: Two hours, 33 minutes, March 24, 2009 and Sept. 9, 2009. Citing the First Amendment, the court struck down a decades-old government ban on spending by corporations and unions to support or attack political candidates. After an hour of arguments the first day, the justices recalled the lawyers for a second day six months later.

— United States v. Nixon: Three hours on July 8, 1974. The court decided that President Richard Nixon's claim of executive privilege to resist a the Watergate special prosecutor's subpoena for White House tape recordings and documents was not completely immune from judicial review and therefore he must comply. Nixon turned over the tapes and resigned soon after.


— Arizona v. California: 16 hours, three minutes on Jan. 8-11, 1962. This original jurisdiction case and others like it are different because no other lower court heard the issue before the Supreme Court. This was a fight between states over how much water could be legally taken out of the Colorado River for a state's use.

— United States v. Louisiana: 13 hours and 32 minutes on Oct. 12-15, 1956. Another original jurisdiction case over whether the state or the federal government has rights to "lands, minerals and other natural resources" off Louisiana's coast.

— Brown v. Board of Education II: 13 hours, 25 minutes on April 11-14, 1955. This case was a follow-up to the famous Brown v. Board of Education ruling that struck down racial segregation in public schools. Brown II was the court's attempt to specify how public schools were to desegregate and is remembered for the court's directive that desegregation proceed with "all deliberate speed."

— Re-argument of Griffin v. Maryland and consolidated cases: Nine hours and 45 minutes on Oct. 14-15, 1963. The court ruled a deputy sheriff's off-duty arrest of five African-American college students who ignored the racially exclusive entrance policy of an amusement park in Maryland was an illegal state action to enforce segregation.

— Permian Basin Area Rate Cases: Eight hours on Dec. 5-7, 1967. The court ruled the Federal Power Commission had the authority to establish the rates for the sale of natural gas in five major areas, including the Permian Basin, a large oil and gas reserve in New Mexico and Texas.

Source: The Oyez Project at Chicago-Kent School of Law and Associated Press research.