Reporter Hints Silent Clarence Thomas an Intellectually-Challenged Jurist
Update/Related (17:38 EDT): The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog started an open thread on Thomas's lack of questions during oral arguments here.
USA Today's "On Deadline" blog this morning picked up on a 5-day old McClatchy Newspapers item that showed Justice Clarence Thomas spoke exactly zero words during Supreme Court oral arguments since February. The original article it referred to seemed to take subtle swipes at the 58-year old George H.W. Bush-appointed jurist.
The May 16 item by reporter Michael Doyle began:
Mum's the word for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Very, very mum.
Taking reticence to new heights, Thomas zips his lip during the robust intellectual combat known as the oral argument. While his eight colleagues joke, thrust, parry and probe, Thomas leans back in silence. And that's how he stays.
Yet rather than leaving Thomas's silence to his quiet demeanor or personality, Doyle went on to suggest to readers that the taciturn Thomas was not intellectually engaged in his work (emphasis mine):
But if Thomas appears checked out, his Supreme Court colleagues are fully dialed in, revealing themselves through the questions they ask. The questions can provoke, penetrate and confuse. They can entertain, enlighten and enlarge the listener.
Oral arguments are an ongoing constitutional conversation, displaying the acute minds and distinct personalities that shape the law under which Americans live. With judicial deliberations conducted in leak-proof secrecy, the oral arguments are the public's best opportunity to regard how justices serving life terms think and how they behave.
Of course oral arguments are just a fraction of the work of a federal jurist, much less a Supreme Court justice. Countless hours poring over legal precedent, searching legal commentaries, engaging the other justices in debate and discussion, and writing, revising, and publishing written opinions are all key to the Court's work and indeed to "displaying the acute minds and distinct personalities" that interpret the Constitution.
Nowhere in his article does Doyle point readers to how they can access Thomas's written opinions on the Supreme Court Web site.