The New York Times Room for Debate looks at Justice Clarence Thomas’s nearly five years of silence at Supreme Court oral argument. While the authors cite numerous reasons for a judge not to question during argument, the commenters seem unconvinced.
The author’s suggest that historically, it was normal for oral argument to precede with few questions, and only the introduction of Antonin Scalia to the court livened things up to the raucous round of interruptions and interrogatives we see today. It is also suggested that the questions asked by the justices are not actually directed at the arguing attorneys, but instead at framing the debate for their fellow justices and beginning to build an understanding of the case that will lead to a coalition voting a certain way. If a justice doesn’t wish to try to convince other justices to vote his way at this stage of the case, he doesn’t need to ask questions. Finally, it is possible that Justice Thomas agrees with the other justices on the right wing of the court, and just doesn’t need to ask questions for his opinions and positions to be voiced.
The commenters on the debate seem more disillusioned with Justice Thomas’s silence. Some comments suggest that in fact Justice Thomas is simply intellectually lazy and not really engaging with the issues in the cases presented. It is suggested that he doesn’t even value his position on the court. One commenter cites his lack of majority opinions as evidence that he is not even attempting to effectively advocate for his view of the Constitution and the rights he would choose to recognize and protect.
Is it a problem when a Supreme Court justice chooses not to ask questions at oral argument? Is it a problem when that same justice doesn’t seek consensus with others to try to craft majority opinions and guide the law? Do Justice Thomas’s potential political and family conflicts of interest change your opinion of his position on the court and the way he chooses to exercise his judicial authority? Regardless of what you think about his positions on the issues, is this appropriate behavior for a man appointed to establish the supreme law of the land?
Sound off in the comments section below.