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The Road to Roe (and Doe): Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court oral arguments in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973).  (Actually the first round of arguments, though they didn’t know that at the time.  The re-arguments in Roe and Doe (second round) were presented on October 11, 1972.

Roe was argued at 10am on Monday, December 13, 1971.  Sarah Weddington, at 26,  represented the Texas plaintiffs; Jay Floyd, an Assistant Attorney General, represented the State of Texas.   That argument was immediately followed by the argument in Doe.  Margie Pitts Hames represented the Georgia plaintiffs.  Dorothy Beasley, an Assistant Attorney General, represented the State of Georgia.

A little-known story about the Roe and Doe arguments is that Dorothy Beasley is widely reputed to have been the best oralist.  And the transcripts and audios bear that out.  Whereas Texas was represented by two different attorneys in the argument and re-argument—Jay Floyd and Robert Flowers—Beasley argued both the argument and reargument for Georgia.  She was an experienced Supreme Court advocate, and was quick and articulate and spirited.

For understanding how and why Roe and Doe were decided the way they were, reading the transcripts of the two oral arguments is essential, and it’s helpful to listen to the oral arguments while following the transcripts.

Due to the relative inaccessibility of the official transcripts, and of the inaccuracies in available copies of the transcripts, we have produced corrected copies of the transcripts based on a close comparison of the official transcripts with the audios.

The corrected transcripts of the two arguments in Roe are posted here and those of the transcripts of the two arguments in Doe here.

The audios are posted at www.oyez.org.

The audio of the two Roe arguments can be found here.

The audio of the two Doe arguments can be found here.

We hope these contribute to scholarly and popular education.

The controversy over the abortion decisions has hardly subsided, and the reasons why are to be found in the Justices’ deliberations in 1971-73 that resulted in the sweeping decision they wrote.

This is the first of a series of blog posts on The Road to Roe (and Doe) that will continue through 2012.