Supreme Court justice defends his five-year vow of silence - Americas - World - The Independent

Supreme Court justice defends his five-year vow of silence

As Justice Clarence Thomas approaches the 20th anniversary in October of his ascent to the US Supreme Court after fending off the still famous sexual harassment charges from Anita Hill, he finds himself under fire for a different milestone in his controversial career: five years of staying mum.

It might serve Justice Thomas well to break into song or perhaps a one-man poetry jam when the Court resumes its winter session to ponder new intractable cases and deliver weighty verdicts next Tuesday. That's because it will also be the fifth anniversary of his having not spoken a word during oral arguments.

Each year that passes with Thomas still keeping his counsel while his colleagues routinely interrupt anxious lawyers with questions and demands for clarification, brings fresh media comment. This time the New York Times that has given the puzzle of his monkish restraint front-page treatment.

"If he is true to form," the Times' reporter notes, "Justice Thomas will spend the arguments as he always does: leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, rubbing his eyes, whispering to [his colleague] Justice Stephen G. Breyer, consulting papers and looking a little irritated and a little bored. He will ask no questions."

For Justice Thomas, the questions about his non-loquacious style on the bench – he is said to be chatty in private – may be a minor irritation. He has answered them in various ways in the past. One explanation is that he grew up speaking Geechee, an obscure patois of the coastline of Georgia, and even now finds public speaking intimidating. The other is that the eight other justices talk far too much as it is.

The anniversary comes, meanwhile, just as another tempest is breaking around him concerning his wife, Virginia Thomas, and revelations of her ties to groups committed to undoing the recently passed healthcare reform laws just as a case on the constitutionality of those reforms are heading towards the Court and her husband.

"My colleagues should shut up," Justice Thomas once told a conference when asked about why he remained silent during oral arguments; it may have been a joke, of course. Quizzed on the topic on another occasion by C-Span television, he said: "I would like to... be referred to as the 'listening justice'. I still believe that, if somebody else is talking, somebody should be listening."

The contrast with his colleagues is certainly stark. Records show that over a 20-year period ending in 2003, the Justices together averaged no fewer than 133 questions per hour while lawyers made their pitches. Among the most probing is Antonin Scalia.

Those questions are pored over by court observers and lawyers for clues as to which way each justice might be bending on a case. That Justice Thomas stays schtum always does not render the Court especially opaque, however, because like Scalia, he is conservative in his legal and political instincts.

It is the conservativism of his lobbyist wife, however, that is giving some liberals pause. Justice Thomas drew criticism for only belatedly revealing in his income disclosure statements that she had earned $700,000 (£436,480) from the Heritage Foundation, which is committed to killing the healthcare reforms. She in the meantime recently set up a new lobbying firm with the Tea Party identified as a charter client.

Last week 74 Democratic congressmen wrote a letter to Justice Thomas asking that he recuse himself, if, as seems likely, the Court is asked eventually to rule on whether the so-called Obamacare reforms violate the constitution and should be repealed in part or in their entirety. "The line between your impartiality and you and your wife's financial stake in the overturn of healthcare reform is blurred," they contended.

The Weird world of justices

* Justice William Cushing is the only judge to have worn a white wig to the Supreme Court, at its first session in 1790. President-to-be Thomas Jefferson told him to discard the wig, saying it made "English judges look like rats peeping through bunches of oakum".

* Chief Justice William Howard Taft Taft is the only person to have held the post of President and Chief Justice of the United States. In his latter role, he also became the only former President to have sworn-in subsequent Presidents.



* Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase Chase is the only justice to appear on American currency. He served between 1864 and1873 and appeared on the now obsolete $10,000 bill.* Justice Anthony KennedyThis month, he became the only Supreme Court Justice to preside over a mock trial of Shakespeare's fictional protagonist Hamlet, to determine if he was sane when he stabbed Polonius.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week