Clarence Thomas Says The Other Justices Should Shut Up And Listen

Stephen Breyer and Clarence ThomasSupreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing

After the U.S. Supreme Court heard a major civil rights case on Wednesday, news outlets noted that Clarence Thomas didn’t say a word during the heated arguments.In fact, aside from cracking a joke in January, Thomas hasn’t said anything during arguments for the past seven years.

There are a lot of theories about why Thomas is so silent.

The most compelling explanation he’s given for being so taciturn is this: The other justices are really, really chatty.

Anybody who’s ever had the pleasure of reading a transcript from a Supreme Court argument – or actually seeing an argument in person – knows the justices talk a lot.

They’ve also gotten a lot chattier in recent years.

A 2009 study in the Washington Journal of Law and Policy found the justices as a whole utter 4,000 words during every hourlong argument, The New York Times reported.

That’s roughly twice as many words as the justices collectively uttered during each hourlong argument in the 1980s, the study found.

Thomas has repeatedly said he just doesn’t think his colleagues’ jabbering is all that useful.

I think there are far too many questions,” he said in a 2009 interview with C-SPAN, according to a report in USA Today. “Some members of the court like that interaction. … I prefer to listen and think it through more quietly.”

“I think you should allow people to complete their answers and their thought and to continue their conversation,” he added, in an apparent dig directed at his colleagues. “I find that coherence that you get from a conversation far more helpful than the rapid-fire questions. I don’t see how you can learn a whole lot when there are 50 questions in an hour.”

Thomas characterised the talkative justices a little more colorfully when speaking to a bar association in Richmond, Va. in 2000, The New York Times reported.

We look like ‘Family Feud,'” Thomas told the bar association.

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