Monday marked the first day the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. That day also marked 10 years since Justice Clarence Thomas asked a question from the bench.
Since then, Thomas has not even spoken from the bench during oral arguments except to crack a joke about Yale in 2013.
Thankfully, Thomas hasn’t been completely mum on why he asks no questions.
At an event in North Carolina in June 2012, Thomas said he’d get rid of oral arguments if he could, which sheds some light on why he might not be such an eager participant in them.
Thomas has also pointed to his Southern background and introverted nature as reasons for his epic silence.
“I don’t see where that advances anything,” Thomas said at a speech in 2012, referring to asking questions. “Maybe it’s the Southerner in me. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, I don’t know. I think that when somebody’s talking, somebody ought to listen.”
Jay Wexler, a former clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has previously told Business Insider that Thomas is actually the most approachable of the justices.
“He gets kind of a bad rap because he doesn’t talk at oral arguments,” Wexler told us. “I think it’s fine that he doesn’t talk at oral arguments.”
Other clerks at the Supreme Court also didn’t hold Thomas’ silence against him, according to Wexler. They took Thomas at his word that he just didn’t think questions were all that helpful.
By contrast, the late Scalia often dominated the questioning during oral arguments.
“Oral argument … changed completely after he went on the bench. I will miss that,” Carter Phillips, who’s argued more Supreme Court cases than any other lawyer in private practice, told Business Insider in an email after Scalia’s death.
Phillips added: “Prior to him, the normal argument might generate 10-15 questions in 30 minutes. Sometimes even fewer. He [Scalia] would ask 10-15 questions by himself.”
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