Even the U.S. Supreme Court Uses Ground Rules

Posted by Kristin Arnold on March 21, 2024

U.S. Supreme Court Uses Ground Rules

I’m a big fan of using ground rules as a proactive, preventive strategy to keep the team’s work focused and on track.

Imagine my delight to hear that even the U.S. Supreme Court uses some ground rules when they deliberate their cases!

In a panel discussion at George Washington University this week, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett explained the justices’ rules for their conferences when deliberating cases in a panel with Justice Sonia Sotomayor and chief executive of Citizen University Eric Liu.

Justice Barrett was quoted in the Gazette as saying:

“We don’t speak in a hot way at our conferences,” Barrett said. “We don’t raise our voices no matter how hot-button the case. We always speak with respect…There’s a norm for how we speak, Chief Justice begins because he’s the most senior, and you go around in a circle. Most senior down to most junior, and you say what you think about the case, and the norm is that you cannot interrupt the other person… So we hear everybody out and it’s not until everybody has spoken that there then can be some back and forth. We do not interrupt one another, and we never raise voices.”

Justice Sotomayer agreed with Justice Barrett’s assessment and also explained how the justices deal with a breach of the norms:

“Generally, one of our senior colleagues will call the person who was perceived to maybe have gotten a little close and tell them, maybe you should think of an apology or patching it up a little bit,” Sotomayor said. “It happens in writing. Occasionally, someone writes something that an individual feels is offensive — and not just explanatory…All of these things are ways to manage emotion without losing respect for one another and without losing an understanding that each of us is operating in good faith. And I think the public discourse has lost some of that.”

Despite ruling on several divisive issues, the justices have long maintained they are civil and get along well despite the fierce disagreements. Why? Because even the U.S. Supreme Court has ground rules!

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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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