While a Supreme Court Justice asking a question in court might not typically seem all that notable, in the case of Justice Clarence Thomas, it is. Until Monday, Thomas had not asked a question at oral arguments since Feb. 22, 2006 — over 10 years ago. The last time Thomas even spoke from the bench was in 2013 when he made a joke about Yale.
Thomas' question Monday arose in a case about a federal ban on gun ownership for domestic violence offenders. "Can you give me an area [of law] where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?" Thomas reportedly asked the lawyer defending the government. "Everyone leaned in disbelieving," said Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, who was in the courtroom. "The colloquy went back and forth several times with Thomas pressing the Assistant Solicitor General."
Thomas has long defended his silence in the courtroom, saying that he doesn't like to "badger people." "I don't see where that advances anything," Thomas said at a speech in 2012 about asking questions. "Maybe it's the Southerner in me. Maybe it's the introvert in me, I don't know. I think that when somebody's talking, somebody ought to listen."