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.

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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.
(Read more Clarence Thomas stories.)

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