‘Tough questioning’ as enactment of ideology in judicial conduct: marriage law appeals in seven US courts


  • Karen Tracy University of Colorado
  • Russell M. Parks University of Colorado, Boulder




questioning, oral argument, ideology, appellate courts, stance markers courts, stance markers, US state supreme courts


This study analyses the question-asking practices during oral argument of 50 judges in seven US state Supreme Courts as each court decided if its state marriage law was legal or if it violated its gay citizens’ rights to marry a partner of their choice. Background on appellate court, oral argument and the seven cases is provided. The analysis provides a discursive portrait of questioning during oral argument and identifies two stance-cuing but rare discourse moves that enacted a judge’s ideology. Then, ‘tough questioning’ and its connection to judges’ political ideologies, as well as the six features of questioning that comprise it are described. The analysis evidences that judges who voted against extending the right of marriage to gay litigants questioned the attorneys representing those litigants in a ‘tougher’, less sympathetic manner. Similarly, judges who voted for extending marriage rights to gay litigants questioned attorneys representing the defending state agencies in a tougher manner. In the conclusion we discuss the relationship among questioning features, stance and ideology and reflect on our usage of the native term ‘tough questioning’.

Author Biographies

Karen Tracy, University of Colorado

Karen Tracy is Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research investigates the problems, discourse strategies, and situated ideals of institutional interaction of different kinds. She has studied emergency calls to the police, academic colloquia, education governance meetings, and, most recently, oral argument in appellate courts. Her work has appeared in a variety of communication and discourse journals and she is past editor of the journal, Research on Language and Social Interaction. She is the author of Challenges of Ordinary Democracy: A Case Study in Deliberation and Dissent, Colloquium: Dilemmas of Academic Discourse; and Everyday Talk.

Russell M. Parks, University of Colorado, Boulder

Russell Martin Parks is a doctoral student in Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He studies theories of argument and disagreement and is particularly interested in how these practices play out in sites where religious identities are foregrounded. His MA thesis forwarded a pragmatic theory of argument, showing how it applied to appellate briefs and oral argument.



How to Cite

Tracy, K., & Parks, R. M. (2012). ‘Tough questioning’ as enactment of ideology in judicial conduct: marriage law appeals in seven US courts. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 19(1), 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1558/ijsll.v19i1.1