Ten years ago, Twitter had just launched, Saddam Hussein was still alive, and Barack Hussein Obama was just a U.S. Senator with a funny name. It was also the last time Justice Clarence Thomas asked a question from the Supreme Court bench, during oral arguments for Holmes v. South Carolina.
The SCOTUS’ own hyper-conservative Silent Bob is the only justice in recent history to go so long without asking questions during oral arguments. Late Justice Antonin Scalia and Thomas often agreed, so it’s possible that Scalia covered any line of questioning that would interest Constitutional Originalists. Another theory is that Thomas is self-conscious about his Georgia accent, which he mentions in his book, “My Grandfather’s Son.”
In 2013, Justice Thomas surprised everyone by speaking during a case, however, it was to make a joke about his alma mater, Yale, with Scalia, not to pose a question. Thomas has said he would rather not “badger people” from the bench and likes to allow counsel the opportunity to make the most of the 30 minutes they have to present their cases. Critics say the lack of participation shows disrespect to the process and makes Thomas appear apathetic.
It remains to be seen if the absence of Scalia will invite more participation from Thomas. Regardless of questions he’s not asking, Thomas’ conservative views are on full display in his written opinions, such as his absurd dissent against marriage equality. Hopefully, he’ll have a chance to write more of those dissents after President Obama fills the vacancy left by Scalia with a qualified, progressive new Justice.