Though it's not clear exactly what he said, it's gotten a great deal of attention from Court watchers because of its rarity.
"Justice Clarence Thomas Breaks His Silence," is Adam Liptak's report in today's New York Times.
One of the abiding mysteries at the Supreme Court is why Justice Clarence Thomas has failed to say a word in almost seven years of arguments. On Monday, when he finally broke his silence, the mystery was replaced by a riddle: Just what did Justice Thomas say?
The justices were considering the qualifications of a death penalty defense lawyer in Louisiana, and Justice Antonin Scalia noted that she had graduated from Yale Law School, which is Justice Thomas’s alma mater.
Justice Thomas leaned into his microphone, and in the midst of a great deal of cross talk among the justices, cracked a joke. Or so it seemed to people in the courtroom.
The court transcript confirms that Justice Thomas spoke, for the first time since Feb. 22, 2006. It attributes these words to him, after a follow-up comment from Justice Scalia concerning a male graduate of Harvard Law School:
“Well — he did not — .”
Although the transcription is incomplete, some people in the courtroom understood him to say, in a joshing tone, that a law degree from Yale could actually be proof of incompetence or ineffectiveness. Others thought that he might have been referring to Harvard. What follows in the transcript supports the view that Justice Thomas made an actual point.
ReutersLegal posts, "Clarence Thomas breaks nearly 7-year court silence." It's by Jonathan Stempel.
For the first time in nearly seven years, Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday spoke to a lawyer presenting a case during oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.
While his utterance was not in the form of a question and consisted of a mere four words, it breaks a silence dating to Feb. 22, 2006, during an argument over the admission of forensic evidence in a South Carolina death penalty case.
Thomas's silence stands out because the other eight justices are active questioners during the hourlong oral arguments. The end of that silence caused a stir among reporters, who sit together in the courtroom.
The case that broke the silence was Boyer v. Louisiana. Jonathan Boyer sought to overturn his murder conviction on the ground that Louisiana took seven years to try him while he sat in jail, violating his constitutional right to a speedy trial.
One issue was whether Boyer's court-appointed lawyers early in the proceedings were qualified to represent him.
"For first time in nearly seven years, Justice Clarence Thomas talks during court arguments," by Carlo Dellaverson at NBC News.
Justice Clarence Thomas broke nearly seven years of silence during oral arguments on the Supreme Court on Monday.
The last time the famously reserved Thomas spoke up, George W. Bush was president, the iPhone was nothing but an internet rumor, and the U.S. economy seemingly had nowhere to go but up. But just before noon on Monday, Thomas uttered what appeared to be a lawyer joke.
During arguments in the Sixth Amendment case Boyer v. Louisiana, the justices were discussing the qualifications of the plaintiff’s counsel when Justice Antonin Scalia asked the assistant district attorney of Louisiana whether another lawyer was a Yale Law School graduate. He then spoke of a different lawyer in the case who graduated from Harvard Law.
The always entertaining Above the Law posts, "Quote of the Day: Justice Thomas Speaks!" It's by David Lat.
Despite being gregarious off the bench, Justice Clarence Thomas is famously silent while on the bench. Justice Thomas has not spoken during a Supreme Court oral argument since February 22, 2006. The seven-year anniversary of CT’s silence was just a few short weeks away.
But today Justice Thomas broke his silence, in the case of Boyer v. Louisiana (“[w]hether a state’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent defendant for five years as a direct result of the prosecution’s choice to seek the death penalty should be weighed against the state for speedy trial purposes”). Although the full substance of his remarks didn’t quite make the transcript, perhaps because it was difficult to hear him, apparently he poked fun at his alma mater, Yale Law School.
"Speak, Clarence, Speak!" is Andrew Cohen's post at Atlantic.
As to the substance of Boyer v. Louisiana, the New York Times published the editorial, "Unspeedy Trial in Louisiana," yesterday.
It has been nearly 50 years since the Supreme Court held that the Constitution guarantees every indigent criminal defendant a right to counsel.
On Monday, the court will hear arguments in a Louisiana case whose outcome could determine whether that right remains robust or a state can dilute it by refusing to pay for a lawyer in a timely fashion.
In Boyer v. Louisiana, the defendant, Jonathan Boyer, spent more than seven years in the Calcasieu Parish jail, waiting to be tried for armed robbery and murder. He arrived there in 2002 and was held without bond because he was indicted on charges for which he could be sentenced to death. He stayed in that jail until 2009, when he was moved to the Louisiana State Penitentiary after being convicted of second-degree murder and armed robbery and given a life sentence.
During Mr. Boyer’s first five years in jail, the case against him languished because of a “funding crisis,” when the state provided no money to pay his lawyer or cover defense expenses. The parish had plenty of money to pay for a lawyer. But the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the parish could not be ordered to pay because that was the state’s duty.
“The only possible remedy” for this kind of violation, the Supreme Court has said in earlier cases, is to set aside the conviction against the defendant and dismiss the case. Ruling otherwise would mean gutting the court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright and rendering the right to counsel all but meaningless.