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Entries in Oral Arguments (1)

Tuesday
Feb222011

Justice Clarence Thomas' Silence Unmatched over 40 Years

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas celebrated an unusual anniversary Tuesday: It's been five years since he's asked a question during oral arguments.

Over the years Thomas has read opinions from the bench, but the last time he spoke up spontaneously during an exchange among the justices and lawyers was in February 2006.

His silence during questioning has sparked debate among court watchers over whether a justice should participate in oral arguments.

Some say that the hearings are largely ceremonial, but others see the opportunity to engage in a public dialogue with lawyers on both sides of a case as a crucial tool for justices to try to persuade one another on a matter of law.

While the court does not have official rules mandating the role of each justice during oral arguments, tradition holds that participation is the norm.

"No single justice has gone even one full term without asking a question in the last 40 years," said Timothy R. Johnson, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota.

Johnson, who has studied the issue for an upcoming book, said that on average Justice Antonin Scalia is the most verbose of the justices, speaking about 27 times per argument session. Compare that to Justice Thomas, who speaks on average almost zero.

Thomas has said that he goes into the oral argument sessions knowing how he will decide a case so he doesn't ask questions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio