Room For Debate
Does Clarence Thomas’s Silence Matter?
It will be five years next week since Justice Clarence Thomas spoke during oral argument at the Supreme Court. Before falling into this long silence, he posed a question on Feb. 22, 2006. In the past 40 years, no other justice has gone an entire term without speaking at least once during arguments, according to Timothy R. Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota.
Can a justice effectively perform his duties without participating in oral argument? Does questioning the lawyers in court make much difference, or is it mostly a ritual, with the justices’ thinking pretty much set beforehand?