Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Departmental Honors


Political Science


In my thesis, I evaluate the conventional wisdom that attorneys representing state governments performed poorly in oral arguments before the Supreme Court. This led the National Association of Attorneys General in 1982 to create the Supreme Court Clearinghouse Project. The project was implemented in an effort to improve the quality of states' efforts before the Court. Pulling from Justice Blackmun's ratings of attorneys in oral arguments, I conduct a quantitative analysis to determine whether such efforts actually led to an improvement in states' performance in Supreme Court litigation. I take the 1,142 cases in which states were involved from 1970-1993 and record Justice Blackmun's ratings of all state attorneys. I employ general data on oral argument quality to then compare with Blackmun's ratings of state attorneys specifically. I then compare the average performance of state attorneys before and after the Clearinghouse Project was implemented in 1982. The evidence suggests that state attorneys, as predicted, perform poorly in comparison to the general average of all attorney scores, but that there was not any improvement in the quality of oral arguments following 1982. The results indicate an important shift in the way we evaluate 1) state attorneys' oral argument performance before the Court, 2) the importance of those oral arguments to state success before the Supreme Court, and 3) the effectiveness of the efforts to improve that performance.



Faculty Mentor

Greg Goelzhauser

Departmental Honors Advisor

Veronica Ward

Capstone Committee Member

Damon Cann