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Justice Clarence Thomas Speaks In Court For The First Time In A Decade

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has said he prefers reviewing written arguments to oral arguments.
Posted at 9:36 PM, Feb 29, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reportedly drew some gasps Monday when he broke a more than 10-year streak of not participating in opening questions.

He asked an attorney several questions regarding legal precedent and the Second Amendment during a case to determine whether people convicted of domestic violence should be prohibited from owning guns.

He asked the federal government's attorney, "Can you think of another constitutional right that can be suspended based upon a misdemeanor violation of a state law?"

The last time Justice Thomas asked a question from the bench was in February 2006. Since then, his only other words during oral arguments before Monday were in 2013, when the Yale graduate apparently took a jab at rival Ivy League school Harvard.

We’ve all opted not to participate in political debates before, but some critics have argued that Thomas’ silence shows he’s just not interested in the discussion.

In The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin wrote that "by refusing to acknowledge the advocates or his fellow-Justices, Thomas treats them all with disrespect."

But Thomas has his own reasons for keeping quiet. He says it’s more important to hear the case from advocates on both sides of the issue. 

He’s also said he prefers to evaluate the written arguments submitted before the case even begins. In fact, he doesn't seem to think oral arguments are all that important.

He said that oral arguments only sway his fellow justices "in 5 or 10 percent of the cases, maybe, and I'm being generous there."

So why would Thomas ask something now? It may be due to the absence of the late Antonin Scalia. Thomas and Scalia were both conservative, but Scalia was more talkative and likely asked many of the questions Thomas would’ve wanted to ask.

The New York Times reported Scalia asked nearly a fifth of all Supreme Court questions from 1991 to 2011.

This video includes clips from University of Virginia and C-SPAN