In a city where people are prone to talk too much, unless they’re taking the Fifth Amendment before a congressional committee, Clarence Thomas is a stunning exception: He doesn’t talk at all before the court.
The Supreme Court justice hasn’t asked a question since 2006, Feb. 22, to be exact, for you court buffs keeping score at home. Thomas is naturally reticent, and the thinking is that after his brutal confirmation hearing – “lecher” was one of the gentler charges – he decided that what you don’t say can’t hurt you.
On the rare occasion he addressed his habitual in-court silence, he offered, “I think that when somebody’s talking, somebody ought to listen.” Trust us when we say there’s no chance of this line of thinking catching on.
But in a hearing Monday, to the shock of court observers, he broke his silence, an event newsworthy enough to attract local front-page attention, and that despite the fact that Thomas didn’t say much – four words of an incomplete sentence, according to the official transcript.
In a case involving Louisiana’s ability, or inability, to provide competent counsel on a timely basis to indigent defendants, eight of the justices, like Thomas either Yale or Harvard grads, began talking and joking among themselves, and then – suddenly – Thomas was heard to speak.
He said, according to the transcript, “Well – he did not – .” Even by the most generous standards, the statement falls short of Delphic profundity, but like any good dramatic passage it leaves the listener hungry for more. Maybe one day in the court he’ll finish the sentence. He certainly has Washington’s attention.