After remaining silent for 10 long years, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas actually asked a series of questions from the SCOTUS bench on Monday.
Just weeks after the death of controversial justice Antonin Scalia, Thomas shocked the country by proving he actually speaks. He asked questions related to a minor case on domestic violence convictions and gun rights.
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Of course, being a hardcore conservative, his questions surrounded whether misdemeanor convictions can permanently suspend one’s constitutional gun rights.
As federal government lawyer Ilana H. Eisentein was closing her arguments, Thomas chimed in.
“Ms. Eisenstein, one question,” he started, according to a transcript released by the court. “This is a misdemeanor violation. It suspends a constitutional right. Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?”
He proceeded to ask her follow-up questions after she could not provide a specific area but noted that First Amendment rights could be affected under similar circumstances, the New York Times reports.
Thomas reportedly last asked a question on Feb. 22, 2006 — 10 years and 7 days ago — related to a death penalty case.
Thomas previously offered insight into why he chooses to remain silent. In his memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” he mentioned that he never asked questions in college or law school and he was often intimidated by other students. He has also reportedly addressed being self-conscious about the way he speaks because he has been teased about the Southern vernacular he grew up speaking.
It’s hard not to consider that Scalia’s absence may have somehow contributed to Thomas’s sudden oral participation. Scalia was vocal, aggressive and Thomas’s closest conservative ally.
"No one was more ideologically aligned with Justice Scalia than Justice Thomas, who has historically been reluctant to ask questions at oral argument because he believes his colleagues already do more than enough talking," CNN contributor Stephen I. Vladeck said . "That he's now asking questions— for the first time in over a decade— is as powerful evidence of the impact of Justice Scalia's absence as anything we've seen from the Justices thus far," he added.
Perhaps Thomas feels like he has to fill Scalia’s shoes by stepping up and speaking out or maybe he just realized how short life is and how easily you can be forgotten if you’re unheard?
In any case, this is profound as President Barack Obama is set to nominate Scalia’s successor who will likely not be such a diehard, committed conservative.
Thomas is prepared for that seat to be filled with someone who won’t adamantly share his sentiments, so he’s shaping up to carry on Scalia’s legacy — starting with asking questions.
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