Thomas breaks his silence during oral arguments.
The New York Times reports, “Around 11:45 on Monday morning, Justice Clarence Thomas broke almost seven years of silence during Supreme Court arguments,” although his exact words could not be heard clearly. According to the Times’ account, “the justices were considering the qualifications of a death penalty defense lawyer in Louisiana, and Justice Antonin Scalia noted that she had graduated from Yale Law School, which is, by some measures, the best in the nation,” and it is also Justice Thomas’ alma mater. The Times notes that “Justice Thomas leaned into his microphone, and in the midst of a great deal of cross talk among the justices, cracked a joke.” The words could not be heard clearly amid all of the talking back and forth in the courtroom, but it seemed to people in the courtroom that Thomas had made a joke in which he said that a law degree from Yale may actually be proof of incompetence.
The Wall Street Journal notes that this marks the first time since 2006 that Thomas has spoken audibly during oral arguments. The Journal adds that Thomas has said that he stopped asking questions during oral arguments because he found that doing so rarely helped him to reach a decision in a given case.
The Legal Times ”The BLT” blog notes that “Thomas’s comment on Monday appeared spontaneous, and seemed to have been triggered by another aspect of his personal history: his alma mater Yale Law School, with which Thomas has a complicated relationship. For years before and after joining the high court in 1991, Thomas had little positive to say about Yale, and he dismissed the importance of his Yale degree.” According to Thomas, the value of his Yale degree was diminished “because he was pegged – or stigmatized – as someone who had been admitted only because of Yale’s affirmative action program.” The blog post adds that in recent years, there has been a mending of fences between Thomas and Yale, and now Thomas makes friendly visits to the school to speak with students and faculty.
From the American Association for Justice news release.