Clarence Thomas Speaks

After seven years of silence on the bench, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had something to say today, although it’s not entirely clear what point he was trying to make:

Justice Clarence Thomas broke his nearly seven-year silence at Supreme Court oral arguments Monday. But no one is sure exactly what he said.

Thomas seemed to be making a light-hearted joke about lawyers trained at his alma mater Yale Law School or its rival, Harvard. But several justices were speaking and laughing at the time, and the court reporter lost Thomas’s comments during the cross talk.

His comments came during questions about the qualifications of lawyers who had represented a Louisiana man in a murder case. Justice Antonin Scalia noted that one of the lawyers had attended Harvard and another had gone to Yale.

“Son of a gun,” Scalia said.

Thomas was among other justices — all of whom attended either Harvard or Yale — who either laughed or made side comments.

All that appears in an unofficial transcript is Thomas saying “Well — he did not — ”

It appeared that Thomas was joking that that might have made the qualifications suspect, because the Louisiana assistant district attorney in the case, Carla S. Sigler, replied:

“I would refute that, Justice Thomas.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, another Yale graduate, then asked Sigler what was enough to make a lawyer constitutionally adequate.

“Is it anybody who’s graduated from Harvard and Yale?”

More laughter.

“Or even just passed the bar?” Sotomayor asked.

“Or LSU law,” Sigler said, referring to Louisiana State University.

No matter what Thomas said, his streak of not asking a question at oral arguments continues. He last queried a lawyer Feb. 22, 2006.

So, that happened. Whatever the heck it was.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    So, that happened. Whatever the heck it was.

    He spoke. From the bench. That is what it was.

    Say what you want about Thomas (and I have said plenty), one can not accuse him of grandstanding from the bench. It is almost as tho he actually cared what the litigants had to say about their case.

  2. Tony W says:

    Conservatives lately suggest to withholding congressional pay for not passing legislation of one sort or another. Would it be reasonable to suggest similar treatment for an clearly incurious Supreme Court Justice?

  3. Anderson says:

    @Tony W: No, it would not.

  4. James in LA says:

    Please. Impeach. This. Wretch. Thank you.

  5. Console says:

    I actually have no problem with the fact Thomas never talks. It sort of punches through the BS that rhetorical debate exemplifies. There can’t be too many supreme court cases that are really decided based on the oral arguments. And if there are… WHY?

    I like the fact that Thomas doesn’t play the game or even care about it. It’s a complete contrast with the hack Scalia. Yet, because Scalia plays the game, he’s the one that’s considered the smart one. No matter how contradictory, how blatantly partisan, or how inconsistent his legal logic is.