Clarence Thomas Speaks
Supreme Court Justice Breaks 12-Year Silence
WASHINGTON, DC (SP) — For the first time since being appointed to the nation’s highest court in 1991, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken.
The incident occurred late on Monday during the Court’s afternoon session. Solicitor General Theodore Olson was making submissions regarding the quantification of damages in federal antitrust litigation when, according to witnesses, Thomas apparently sneezed several times in succession. He then proceeded to ask Olson for a handkerchief.
Olson, a seasoned Supreme Court litigant, hesitated briefly, but then promptly produced the requested item. “One of the key elements of successful appellate advocacy is being able to think quickly on your feet,” explained Olson.
The request breaks 12 years of self-imposed silence by Mr. Justice Thomas. It isn’t the longest period of verbal inactivity by a member of the Supreme Court, that distinction belonging to Mr. Justice Robert Martin, who didn’t utter a word for the final 14 years of his tenure with the Court (1862-1876). However, it was posthumously determined that Martin had in fact died at least 10 years prior to his official “retirement”.
Thomas had not always been such a moribund member of the judiciary. During highly contentious congressional confirmation hearings in 1991, Thomas spoke at length with the Senate Judiciary Committee about such matters as his pubic hair fetish and the distinguished career of adult film star Long Dong Silver.
However, since being named to the Supreme Court, Thomas had remained catatonically silent, that is, until Monday. Whereas it is a time-honored tradition for Justices to interrupt counsel during their submissions with frequent and vigorous questioning, Thomas had previously left it to the other eight judges to interrogate the litigants, even in such important and historic cases as Bush v. Gore, which effectively decided the most recent presidential election.
Legal analysts are sharply divided over whether Thomas will now take a more assertive role in the courtroom. “Now that he’s spoken from the bench, I think it’s entirely conceivable that he will pose questions of litigants with much greater frequency,” says Greta Van Susteren of Fox News Channel. “The fact that he recently agreed to do interviews to promote his upcoming autobiography was a clear indication that he’s poised to become more of an extrovert.”
CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin strongly disagrees. “There’s a world of difference between asking counsel for a hanky and asking them substantive legal questions. Moreover, one shouldn’t overlook the fact that Thomas broke his silence during the height of allergy season.”