Clarence Thomas Goes 5 Years without Speaking at Supreme Court

Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Justice Clarence Thomas
It is virtually unheard of for a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court not to speak during oral arguments for an entire term, given the vocal nature of judges and the complexities of legal issues at hand. But Justice Clarence Thomas has managed a state of silence that has lasted nearly five years.
Timothy R. Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times that no other justice in the past 40 years, other than Thomas, has gone an entire year, let alone five, without piping up at least once during oral arguments.
The last time Thomas asked a question in court was during a death penalty case on February 22, 2006. Sometimes, Thomas’ silence can lead to surprising developments. Writing in The New York Times, Adam Liptak cites a 2007 free speech case, Deborah Morse v. Joseph Frederick, in which Thomas’ written opinion stated that “the Constitution does not afford students a right to free speech in public schools,” a position that had not come up in the arguments presented during the case.
Now entering his 20th year on the high court, Thomas has offered different reasons for his quiet state that range from being self-conscious about his voice to being polite to having a difficult time getting a word in because his colleagues often dominate court hearings. Georgia-born Thomas has also said that as a teenager he had trouble learning standard English because he grew up speaking Geechee (or Gullah), a dialect of the descendants of former slaves on the islands off the coast.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
No Argument: Thomas Keeps 5-Year Silence (by Adam Liptak, New York Times)
Thomas: No Questions in 2 Years (by Adam Liptak, New York Times)
Silent Justice Thomas: Not a Word Spoken (by Mark Sherman, Associated Press)


Anonymous 13 years ago
Judge Thomas (before he was Justice Thomas) used to come to my high school every black history month and give us a speech about how he didn't need affirmative action to make it to where he was (his son was a student there). For what it's worth, I remember his public speaking skills to be just fine.
David 13 years ago
What would happen to a Prosecuting Attorney who did not speak a word in court in 5 years ? What would happen to a Defense Attorney who did not speak a word in court in 5 years ? Anyone could tell you..They would be held in contempt of court. But for that matter, What would happen to ANY of us who didn't speak in a word at work in 5 years ? Any honest answer, would be that we would be in MAJOR trouble, and almost surely fired. Why then does the right wing, as always, slavishly and fanatically defend Justice Thomas ? Probably because they defend anyone whose record of protecting the powerful against the weak, is as "impressive" as Justice Thomas. Perhaps though, Justice Thomas is just following the age old adage of "Better to keep quiet and let people wonder if you're and idiot, rather than open your mouth and prove it". Sorry Justice Thomas, we already know you're not a "Rhodes Scholar" so this 5 year attempt hasn't worked. Nice try though.

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