Judge Sykes asked Justice Thomas how the Court has changed over the 22 years he has served on the Court, alluding to various SCOTUS developments of the past two decades, such as the rise of a specialized Supreme Court bar. But as Robert Barnes put it in the Washington Post, CT “didn’t seem particularly interested in Sykes’s questions about the workings of the modern court.” That’s a fair characterization, in light of Justice Thomas’s concise summary of life as a justice:
There are a lot of briefs, and people doing a lot of talking. I mean, it’s law.With that attitude, it’s no wonder that Justice Thomas has been silent all these years (at least in terms of asking questions of counsel during oral argument).
But don’t mistake his lack of participation in oral argument for boredom or disinterest. He talked about how a clerk just brought him a draft opinion in a pending case, apologizing for how boring the issue is — by the way, if you have a boring case under submission at SCOTUS, Justice Thomas might be writing your opinion — and he disagreed with that clerk. He explained to Judge Sykes how much he enjoys his work at the Court:
Even the most boring cases are fascinating to me….No, I’m not exaggerating the Oprah-esque outpouring of love. As Robert Barnes put it, in an article entitled Clarence Thomas: The Supreme Court’s most happy fella, “the 65-year-old Thomas was full of ‘love’: for his colleagues, for his law clerks, for his life.”
I love the cloistered life; I was in the seminary. I love my law clerks. I have this wonderful work to do.
But not, it should be noted, for stare decisis. Justice Thomas — who must have a Word macro that says, “this case does not raise / the parties have not argued [issue X], but in an appropriate case, this Court should revisit [issue X] — had the following exchange with his interlocutor:
Judge Sykes: Stare decisis doesn’t hold much weight with you?Cue the standing ovation. To quote Justice Willett again, #Nerdvana.
Justice Thomas: Oh it does. But not enough to keep me from going to the Constitution.
Justice Thomas is patient enough to wait for history to catch up with him, comparing some of his jurisprudence to “a fine wine — it just needs aging.” He noted that it took the first Justice Harlan, author of the great dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, sixty years to be vindicated.
The high-stakes cases, which cluster toward the end of the Term, can produce tension and frayed nerves. Judge Sykes asked Justice Thomas about this, and whether he’s eager to escape the building by summer. CT diplomatically responded that he doesn’t really have such problems, which led Justice Scalia to call out from the audience: “I get out of there as soon as I can!”
Monday, November 18, 2013
Justice Thomas speaks!
OK, so it wasn't at an oral argument, but it still was quite a talk at the Federalist Society last week. ATL has the complete write-up here, and it's lengthy. Here's one clip: