Photo: Joeff Davis via Flickr
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made headlines in January when he spoke for the first time in nearly seven years, but he wasn’t actually asking a question. (He was cracking a joke about Ivy League schools.)However, it seemed like Thomas might actually ask a question Wednesday when the high court heard a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark civil rights law.
That law requires 16 states, most of which are in the South, to get permission from the federal government before changing their voting procedures.
LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act during an ugly time in the South. Before 1965, many states tried to disenfranchise blacks by forcing voters to take literacy tests or pay poll taxes.
Thomas, the court’s only black justice, is not only from Georgia but is also strongly sceptical of any laws that express “racial preferences.”
He’s a famous opponent of affirmative action. And in a previous challenge to the VRA, Thomas wrote a dissent saying the discrimination that necessitated the law in the first place “no longer exists,” USA Today reported.
But he didn’t ask a single question on Wednesday, as always.
Why would a justice of the nation’s highest court remain totally silent during an argument about an issue he’s obviously really passionate about?
Thankfully, Thomas hasn’t been completely mum on why he asks no questions.
At an event in North Carolina in June, 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 last April, 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 Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has told BI 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.
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