Justice Clarence Thomas asks question in court; first in ten years

WASHINGTON -- Justice Clarence Thomas broke 10 years of courtroom silence Monday and posed questions during a U.S. Supreme Court oral argument, provoking gasps from the audience.

See Full Article

And it wasn't just one question; it was a string of them in an exchange that lasted several minutes.

It was only the second week the court has heard arguments since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Thomas' friend and fellow conservative, whom he'd sat next to for seven years. Scalia was famous for aggressive and sometimes combative questions from the bench. His chair is now draped in black in observance of his Feb. 13 death.

Thomas' gravelly voice unexpectedly filled the courtroom and enlivened an otherwise sleepy argument about gun rights. He peppered Justice Department lawyer Ilana Eisenstein, who was trying to wind up her argument, with 10 or so questions that seemed to be a vigorous defense of the constitutional right to own a gun.

"Ms. Eisenstein, one question," Thomas said. "This is a misdemeanour violation. It suspends a constitutional right. Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?"

Until then, it had been business as usual for the first 50 minutes of the hour-long session in Voisine v. United States. The court was considering the reach of a federal law that bans people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns.

None of the other justices visibly reacted to Thomas' remarks.

Eisenstein noted that violating other laws can, in some cases, limit a person's free-speech rights under the First Amendment.

"OK," Thomas said. "So can you think of a First Amendment suspension or a suspension of a First Amendment right that is permanent?"

It was a topic no other justice had asked about. And his comments came after several of the other justices seemed to favor the government's position that the law applies whether the abuse is intentional or reckless.

Thomas last asked a question in court on Feb. 22, 2006, and his unusual silence over the years has become a curiousity. Every other justice regularly poses questions from the bench.

Thomas has come under criticism for his silence from some who say he is neglecting his duties as a justice. He has said he relies on the written briefs in a case and doesn't need to ask questions of the lawyers appearing in court.

Carrie Severino, a former clerk to Thomas who now heads a conservative advocacy group, said the justice had kept his silence "because he felt that oral arguments have become less civil and respectful of the attorneys and their arguments over the past two decades, often becoming little more than rhetorical jousting among the justices."

Like Scalia, Thomas has long championed Second Amendment gun rights. In December, he and Scalia objected when the high court refused to hear a challenge to a Chicago suburb's assault weapons ban that was upheld by lower courts. Thomas said the justices should not stand by while lower courts relegate "the Second Amendment to a second-class right."

Thomas did not speak during the court's second argument on Monday.

Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • 'You're celebrating colonization': 4 Indigenous people share why they won't be singing O Canada on July 1

    Canada News CBC News
    For Shane Henry, it used to be about donning the red and white to celebrate Canada on July 1, but this year — on Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation — he's not feeling so patriotic. "Putting a bunch of flags on my skin and jumping in praise saying, 'Oh, look at our great country and look at all that we've accomplished' — that part of it isn't so comfortable with me anymore," explained the University of Saskatchewan PhD student and researcher with the Saskatoon Tribal Council. Source
  • Cholera cases in Yemen now more 200,000

    World News CBC News
    The UN health agency says there are now more than 200,000 suspected cases of cholera in an outbreak in war-torn Yemen, many of them children.State of emergency in Yemen after cholera outbreakCholera cases in Yemen pass 100,000: WHOUNICEF director Anthony Lake and World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan said in a statement Saturday, "we are now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world," with an average of 5,000 new cases every day. Source
  • Overturned oil tanker explodes in Pakistan, killing 148

    World News CBC News
    An overturned oil tanker burst into flames in Pakistan on Sunday, killing 148 people who had rushed to the scene of the highway accident to gather leaking fuel, an official said. Dozens more were wounded, including about 40 in critical condition, said Mohammad Baqar, an official with local rescue services, adding that the toll was expected to rise. Source
  • Not-so-new Canadian: How welcoming is N.L. for immigrants?

    Canada News CBC News
    On a mid-April Sunday, 18 years ago, I looked down upon St. John's from Signal Hill and wondered to myself, "What have I done?" The snow covering was gone and the landscape was grey, brown, slushy and mucky. Source
  • 'Your son is alive'; California father buries wrong man after coroner’s mistake

    World News Toronto Sun
    SANTA ANA, Calif. — Eleven days after laying his son to rest, Frank J. Kerrigan got a call from a friend. “Your son is alive,” he said. “Bill (Shinker) put my son on the phone,” Kerrigan said. Source
  • Al Capone's song, pocket watch fetch over $100K at auction

    World News Toronto Sun
    BOSTON — Artifacts connected to some of the nation’s most notorious gangsters sold for more than $100,000 at auction Saturday. A diamond pocket watch that belonged to Al Capone and was produced in Chicago in the 1920s, along with a handwritten musical composition he wrote in Alcatraz in the 1930s, were among the items that sold at the “Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen” auction. Source
  • Venezuelan protesters, security forces clash at air base

    World News CTV News
    CARACAS, Venezuela -- Young protesters broke down a metal fence guarding an air base in Caracas on Saturday before being repelled by security forces firing tear gas in another day of anti-government protests in Venezuela's capital. Source
  • Venezuelan president's opponents lay siege to air base

    World News CBC News
    Young protesters broke down a metal fence guarding an air base in Caracas on Saturday before being repelled by security forces firing tear gas in another day of anti-government protests in Venezuela's capital. Demonstrators threw stones, and some protesters were injured. Source
  • Lots to be proud of on Canada's 150th

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    So this great country of ours Canada is about to turn 150. Well, happy sesquicentennial to us. Although, it was a lot easier to pronounce “centennial” 50 years ago. And what a great year that was. Bobby Gimby sang, “Canada – now we are 20 million. Source
  • Race was a factor in St. Louis black officer mistakenly shot by white cop: lawyer

    World News CTV News
    An off-duty black St. Louis police officer's race factored into him being mistakenly shot by a white officer who didn't recognize him after a shootout with black suspects this week, the wounded officer's lawyer contends. Source