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The End Is Nigh: Justice Thomas Speaks, Breaking 10-Year Silence

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Start building your arks, carving out your bunkers, or stocking up on canned food, because surely the end is upon us. The sky must be dark; the oceans must have turned to blood. Somewhere, I think, four horsemen are trotting this way.

After ten years of silence, Justice Thomas asked a question during oral arguments today.

What Rough Beast Slouches Towards Bethlehem to Be Born?

The details this morning are sparse, but here's what we know: Monday morning, during oral arguments in Voisine v. United States, Justice Thomas started pelting lawyers with questions. It's an appropriate case for the rebirth of Justice Thomas, as it deals with the ability of the government to limit firearm possession for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. Justice Scalia, Thomas's friend and philosophical ally, has long been a vocal champion of the Second Amendment. Perhaps Thomas is taking his place?

Justice Thomas began by asking if First Amendment rights might be suspended based upon a misdemeanor, Bloomberg's Supreme Court reporter Kimberly Robinson reported in a series of tweets. The question wasn't a one-off.

Breaking His Vow of Silence

According to Robinson, none of the other justices seemed surprised by Justice Thomas's remarks, but we are.

The questions are a dramatic shift for Justice Thomas. A week ago today, Justice Thomas celebrated his tenth anniversary of Supreme Court silence. The justice hadn't asked a question during oral arguments since that date in 2006. That means he was silent for now 3,652 days and around 800 oral arguments. He's been silent so long that we've used the idea of Justice Thomas speaking as an April Fool's joke on this very blog. Twice.

Justice Thomas has given several reasons for his silence. He has said he finds the constant interruptions rude to the attorneys arguing. He has also explained that he finds questioning during oral arguments unhelpful, when most of the legal questions a justice has can be solved by looking at the parties' briefs. "I think we should listen to lawyers who are arguing their cases, and we should allow the advocates to advocate," Thomas once told a group at Harvard Law.

And while Justice Thomas once made a joke from the bench -- an act which, on its own, was able to generate headlines -- today's questions were the first signs of real, sustained engagement by the justice in a decade.

If it's not the end of the world, perhaps it's just a leap day miracle. Here's hoping we don't have to wait another four -- or ten -- years to hear from Justice Thomas again.

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