Questioning Justice Thomas’ Lack of Questions

This past weekend, the NYT‘s Adam Liptak reported that it has been five years since Justice Clarence Thomas has asked a question at oral argument.

Justice Thomas has given various and shifting reasons for declining to participate in oral arguments, the court’s most public ceremony.

He has said, for instance, that he is self-conscious about the way he speaks. In his memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” he wrote that he had been teased about the dialect he grew up speaking in rural Georgia. He never asked questions in college or law school, he wrote, and he was intimidated by some fellow students.

Elsewhere, he has said that he is silent out of simple courtesy.

“If I invite you to argue your case, I should at least listen to you,” he told a bar association in Richmond, Va., in 2000.

Justice Thomas has also complained about the difficulty of getting a word in edgewise. The current court is a sort of verbal firing squad, with the justices peppering lawyers with questions almost as soon as they begin their presentations. . . .

Justice Thomas has said he finds the atmosphere in the courtroom distressing. “We look like ‘Family Feud,’ ” he told the bar group.

Today’s “Room for Debate” feature poses the question “Does Justice Thomas’ Silence Matter?” Those discussing the question are political scientist Timothy Johnson (Minnesota), and  law professors Jamal Greene (Columbia), Vikram Amar (UC Davis), and our own Orin Kerr (GWU).