U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Thomas turns talkative in telephone arguments after years of mostly silence

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is showing his personality in oral arguments questioning, a turnabout from past years when he stayed mostly silent.

Thomas appears to have taken to the Supreme Court’s remote arguments, switching “from monkish silence to gregarious engagement,” according to the New York Times.

The arguments have taken place by telephone since May 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The article noted that justices now ask questions in order of seniority. In the past, Thomas has complained that the justices’ barrage of questions aren’t helpful, and Supreme Court advocates should have a chance to advocate.

“We look like Family Feud,” Thomas once said.

An ABC News article, written after the first two weeks of remote arguments, reported that Thomas had asked 63 questions during that time.

According to the New York Times, Thomas’ questions since last May were “measured and straightforward,” and his “idiosyncratic legal views” went largely unexpressed. The article also noted his “colorful asides,” including a comment that a supposed “hot pursuit” was more of a “meandering pursuit.”

In another instance, a lawyer mistakenly referred to Thomas as the chief justice.

“Thank you for the promotion,” Thomas responded.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre, now a lawyer with Latham & Watkins, told the New York Times that Thomas is an excellent questioner.

“His questions are clear, fair and focused on resolving the heart of the dispute before the court, not tangential issues,” Garre said. “Often, his questions have a practical element to them, testing the real-world ramifications of a party’s position. He’s not trying to set traps or debate academic issues.”

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