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U.S. Supreme Court

A Push for Consensus? Justice Thomas Sees Parallels to ‘Herding Gnats in a Hurricane’

Posted Jul 19, 2010 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Justice Clarence Thomas compared oral arguments to a game show and life as the only black on the U.S. Supreme Court to a Saturday Night Live skit during an appearance Saturday at the Utah State Bar Association.

The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News both sent reporters to the group’s summer convention in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Thomas spent a half hour answering audience questions after an 18-minute speech.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on two of Thomas' analogies. He recalled that when he first arrived at the court, justices “actually listened to lawyers.” Now there are so many questions that it “becomes more like Family Feud than oral argument.” As for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s push for more consensus, well, good luck with that, he implied. “I would equate trying to get the members of the court to do what you want them to do with herding gnats in a hurricane,” Thomas said.

The Deseret News blog the Big Lever observed that Thomas appeared to be the only African-American at the gathering. Thomas touched on race when he joked about being the only black on the Supreme Court, recalling an old Saturday Night Live routine.

"You all may not remember that Eddie Murphy skit where he's on the bus and he's the only black guy on the bus and nobody talks—it's sort of like being on an elevator,” Thomas said. “As soon as Eddie Murphy leaves the bus, all the whites who are left on the bus throw off their outer garments and they're in party outfits. So things may be going on at the court [when I'm not there]—they may just be waiting and saying, 'Oh, the black guy's gone!' "

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