Justice Clarence Thomas broke his nearly 7-year silence at Supreme Court oral arguments Monday. But that’s about all we really know.
It’s not clear what exactly the conservative justice said, but the well-respected SCOTUSblog believes he was cracking a joke about his alma mater, Yale Law School, with which he has a bitter, estranged relationship.
As fellow justices were asking counsel questions about lawyers who graduated from Yale and Harvard Law School, the Court’s transcript of Boyer v. Louisiana quotes Thomas as jumping in and saying, “Well — he did not —”.
Several people noted on Twitter that Thomas spoke softly and it was difficult to hear him. The comment by the George H. W. Bush-appointed jurist provoked laughter, according to the transcript, and prompted Louisiana lawyer Carla Sigler to respond, “I would refute that, Justice Thomas.”
The last time Thomas was recorded speaking during an oral argument was February 22, 2006 in a death penalty case. His famous silence since then has coincided with other justices becoming increasingly talkative.
Here’s how SCOTUSblog reported Thomas’ quip on Monday:
Thomas, J. (Yale, JD), speaks: funny at argument—Yale degree could mean lawyer is incompetent, not competent, capital trial counsel.— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) January 14, 2013
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.