Clarence Thomas: 5 Years Without a Peep

Justice's silence mystifies court observers

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 13, 2011 5:39 AM CST

(Newser) – It is a strange anniversary coming up for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas—on Feb. 22, it will have been five years since the justice has spoken during a court argument. The other justices average between six questions or remarks a case (Alito) and 25 (Scalia), and no other justice in 40 years has gone a term without speaking at least once during arguments. Thomas has given different reasons for his extended silence, from being self-conscious about his southern dialect to politeness, but he remains a mystery, reports the New York Times.

Ironically, Thomas is considered friendly in private, speaking frequently with students at smaller, regional schools, preferring to talk movies to legal theory (Saving Private Ryan is a favorite). When Thomas has spoken in the past, his questions and comments could be influential, such as in a 2002 case about cross burning in Virginia. “This was a reign of terror, and the cross was a symbol of that reign of terror,” he said. “It was intended to cause fear and to terrorize a population.” But for some, his silence is deafening: “If Justice Thomas holds a strong view of the law in a case, he should offer it,” wrote one journalist in a law review.

In this Oct. 8, 2010 file photo, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is seen during the group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington.
In this Oct. 8, 2010 file photo, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is seen during the group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file)
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2010.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2010.   (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas sits with other Supreme Court judges for a new group photograph, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, at the Supreme Court in Washington.
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas sits with other Supreme Court judges for a new group photograph, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, at the Supreme Court in Washington.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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