Justice Clarence Thomas asked a question during oral arguments today, the first time in ten years. Aside from a four word jab at Yale in 2013, it is the first time Thomas has spoken during arguments.
The last time Thomas had spoken at length was February 22, 2006. Thomas has a personal policy against speaking during arguments, feeling that arguments are a time for the lawyers to make their case. Thomas has also argued that he has the ability to speak at length when the Justices deliberate on cases.
The Justices were hearing arguments regarding Voisine v. U.S., where two Maine men are arguing that their guilty pleas for domestic abuse should not disqualify them from gun ownership. Near the end of the hourlong session, Thomas asked Ilana Einstein, a lawyer for the government, whether this would lead to a violation of the men’s constitutional rights. He said that the current law allows for people to lose their right to a bear arms “which at least as of now results in suspension of a constitutional right.”
The late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was very close to Thomas personally and ideologically, was known for his aggressive questioning. Scalia would defend Thomas’s low-key style and some joke that he asked enough questions for the two of them.
Carrie Severino, a former clerk to Thomas, told CNN that “It is possible that Thomas was asking a question that he thought Scalia might have brought up.”