Clarence Thomas Breaks Half-Decade Silence During SCOTUS Arguments

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 14 2013 3:50 PM

Clarence Thomas Breaks Nearly Seven-Year Silence To Make Fun of Yale (Update: Or Maybe Harvard)

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has famously kept quiet during the past six (nearly seven) years of oral arguments. That streak came to an end today, when Thomas, a graduate of Yale Law School, broke his silence to apparently crack wise about one or more Ivy League law schools.

Unfortunately, Thomas' exact remarks weren't captured by the official court reporter thanks to laughter in the court room. The Associated Press reports that "what Thomas said is not clear, other than he appears to have joked about Ivy League lawyers." Those in the courtroom say that Thomas was either making fun of Yale or Harvard. The normally reliable SCOTUSBlog was the first to report on Thomas' joke, and suggested that the justice's dig was directed squarely at the school from which he graduated (the J. is an abbreviation for Justice):

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The last time Thomas spoke during oral arguments was in February 2006 during a death penalty case. For a refresher on his prolonged silence, check out this New York Times article from 2011.

Thomas has had a rather uneasy relationship with Yale since he graduated from the elite law school nearly four decades ago. In a Washington Post article last year, Robert Barnes summed things up like so:

"Strained" would not begin to describe the relationship between the New Haven, Conn., school and Thomas, Class of 1974. For years, the 63-year-old justice has avoided his alma mater, writing that it was a mistake for him to have attended the school and declining to have his portrait hung in its halls, as is the case with other notable graduates. ...
It is hard to overstate the estrangement between Thomas and Yale. In his 2007 autobiography, "My Grandfather’s Son," the justice was withering in his criticism of some of the professors and students he met in New Haven and said the law school’s affirmative action policies tainted his diploma.

However, things appeared to be on the mend, at least somewhat, in recent years. In December of 2011, Thomas returned to Yale to co-teach a class and speak with students, and last year paid a visit to New Haven to speak with his fellow alumni.

This post, originally published at 2 p.m., was updated to reflect the conflicting reports about what exactly Thomas said.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.