Five Years Later, Justice Clarence Thomas Still Silent Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has passed a unique anniversary. As of Tuesday, it has been five years since he asked a question at the court's oral argument — a phenomenon unmatched in recent history.
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Five Years Later, Justice Thomas Still Silent

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Five Years Later, Justice Thomas Still Silent

Law

Five Years Later, Justice Thomas Still Silent

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has the story.

NINA TOTENBERG: Here he is talking about it in a 2009 C-Span interview.

J: 'Cause I think there are far too many questions. But that's - we all learn differently. So some members of the court like that interaction. It helps them learn and process what they have been thinking of. I prefer to listen and think it through more quietly - but each to his own.

TOTENBERG: Timothy Johnson, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota who's studied oral argument, does think that Thomas has lost some influence. That's in part because Johnson says scholarly research shows oral argument is the first place that the justices move towards their decision-making - in essence, talking to each other through their questions.

NORRIS: If the coalitions are starting to coalesce, if you will, during oral argument, then in that sense it probably does matter, to some degree - especially given that Justice Thomas often makes quite unique arguments in the opinions that he writes.

TOTENBERG: University of California law professor Vikram Amar agrees.

P: I think the fact that Justice Thomas seems to write so frequently for himself alone, and the fact that he lays out positions that are far apart from those of the other justices, does indicate that at least at this point, he's not trying to tip the balance on the court and build groups of two, three, four or five to resolve cases.

TOTENBERG: But Amar has this caveat.

P: I do, however, think that for the public, it's sometimes good for each of the justices to show the world that they are engaged, and that they really have the kind of keen, active legal mind that we look for in justices.

TOTENBERG: Lawyer Erik Jaffe, a former Thomas clerk, calls all this academic fairytale spinning.

NORRIS: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington

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