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Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Law | 13 comments

BREAKING NEWS: Clarence Thomas Spoke During Supreme Court Oral Argument

BREAKING NEWS: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has not talked for nearly 7 years during Supreme Court oral arguments. But today he did.

Let me guess what he said:


Well, not quite. But it could have been part of what he said:

Justice Clarence Thomas broke his nearly seven-year silence at Supreme Court oral arguments Monday. But no one is sure exactly what he said.

Thomas seemed to be making a light-hearted joke about lawyers trained at his alma mater, Yale Law School, or its rival, Harvard; the Ivy League is a common Thomas target. But several justices were speaking and laughing at the time, and Thomas’s exact comments apparently are lost to history.

It was over so quickly that some observers hadn’t realized the 64-year-old justice had spoken at all.

Still, just the utterance set off a small quake among those who closely follow the Supreme Court. It quickly lit up Twitter, and parts of official Washington waited for a transcript of the proceedings or a scrubbing of the tape of oral arguments. It prompted the kind of intense analysis that usually accompanies one of the court’s important decisions.

Of the many mysteries about life inside the Marble Palace at First Street that puzzle the public, the question of why Thomas has not asked a question at oral argument since Feb. 22, 2006, is one of the most enduring.

(And to be clear, that streak continues. Whatever Thomas’s exact words, it was apparent that he was not asking a question of counsel.)

Actually, if he said more I bet he’d sound like Harold Hill in The Music Man in this song:

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  • ordinarysparrow

    Was it Old English or Latin?

  • zephyr

    What a great role for Robert Preston! One of my favorite musicals.

    As for Clarence Thomas? I have nothing good to say about the man.

  • sheknows

    ” Those who not speak, Those who speak.. do not know”

    In the case of Thomas, He’s useless either way. 🙂

  • Breaking News: Worthless Sack Does Actual Job. Film at Eleven.

  • ShannonLeee

    He knows he is not qualified and does not want to embarrass himself by asking a stupid question.

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    He was badly escoriated in his nomination hearings; the media made a sideshow out of it. Danforth couldnt protect him from the barrage of ridicule. He may not speak much, not wanting to risk media to make him ‘news’ in shaming him again. Part of the side show was about affirmative action, taking advantage of quotas, and so on, the latter having far more clipping power perhaps than allegations of sexualizing the work environment.

  • zephyr

    I believe Anita Hill.

  • ShannonLeee

    Dr E., I would think that asking questions or making comments would be a requirement for his job. How would the votes have gone if he would have stated before hand that he planned on not speaking during most of his appointment?

    I dont get it.

    • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

      that’s a really good point to ponder SL… how would the votes have gone had he said he would be essentially mute for many years. Good point. I’d like to look a bit further into the story to see if in fact he doesnt at least ask questions. That would be a really odd way to proceed, to never want to know more about the various facts of a case?

  • The_Ohioan

    With all due respect, it was the Senate committee that made it a side show. Senator Simpson in particular was a leading Mummer in that Mummer’s Parade.

    Not that the Senate wanted to have anything to do with Ms. Hill; it was outraged women who forced them to it. Would that they could force them to consider gun control. And would that Justice Thomas could use his voice in the Supreme Court as well as at conservative groups’ meetings.

  • ordinarysparrow

    Ohioan i was left with similar perceptions…” it was the Senate committee that made it a side show.” I don’t think i missed any of the hearings, until that time gave little attention to politics, but Hill/Thomas ushered in a growing interest. I believe this was an event that brought many women into a greater political awareness…

    Sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and political partisanship…As far as partisan politics Anita Hill may of been the ‘granmothering’ spring that rose from the ground and continued to flow into the drowning river of Republican vitriol that we see this day in ones like Todd Akin, legitimate rape, forcible rape, magic wombs, restriction of birth control, binders full of women, etc… what some call the war against women by the Republicans….

    Until Anita Hill sexual harassment was something women did not talk about…after the hearings, she went on to a non-political academic life and continued non-intrusively and seasoned to be a voice for sexual harassment and gender discrimination… Whereas Clarence Thomas sat on the most powerful bench in the world,turned mute because of defensiveness…

    I continue to remember;
    Senator Howell Helflin. ” Are you a scorned woman?” “Do you have a martyr complex? Do you have a militant attitude relative to the area of civil rights?”

    Senator Alan Simpson muttering into his microphone that Hill’s claim was “sexual harassment crap”. Then he told her what real harassment would be:

    “She will be injured and destroyed and belittled and hounded and harassed, real harassment, different from the sexual kind, just plain old Washington variety harassment.”

    And that proved true…

    I will not count the number of times … that I have been threatened with sodomy, rape, assault and other forms of sexual and nonsexual violence. Some of the callers have used almost the same words: ‘Now you will know what real harassment is like.”Anita Hill

    I also remember Helfin’s parting shot: ” You gonna write a book.”

    Anita Hill did write a book; Speaking Truth to Power.

    Who you gonna believe based on their presentation of the hearing and the life they have lived since?

    Anita Hill remains at the top of the list of powerful women that made a difference for all women.

    Just chirping outloud…

  • The_Ohioan


    True, all true. The strange thing was..I had to take my daughter back to college in another town and was listening to the hearing on the radio on the way back home. I thought, just from hearing it, that she was not telling the truth. When I got home and turned on the TV, I completely reversed my opinion. To this day I’m not sure what the actual truth is, but have concluded that Ms. Hill was a straight arrow innocent with a religious background who didn’t know how to joke about what Mr. Thomas thought was perfectly alright to joke about given his absorbtion with pornography.

    I thought his opening statement that he wouldn’t discuss his use of pornograpy was a marker not many candidates for the Supreme Court would be comfortable laying down. I would expect him to recuse himself from any case concerning pornography, though that type of case has pretty well been decided by now.

    One wonders if the place on the Supreme Court was worth it if he’s rendered mute by the inability to discuss anything in court without a public controversy erupting – no matter what he says.

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    stationed at FE Warren AFB, which was Senator Simpson country, it was a heck a time then, as Simpson spoke mainly for old time ranchers. The first well know legal case of sexual harrassment handed down a precedent decision in 1976. 1991 was the year of the Clarence Thomas hearings. Many many women took huge risks to bring cases long before then. They were the pioneers.

    Hill, as I recall hearing her on radio was speaking about inappropriate language and Thomas allegedly sexually harassing female colleagues when they all worked together. She claimed in the plural in terms of Thomas harassing more than herself. Some of the ‘disbelief’ of her claims by some, back then, were based on the fact that the other peer-colleagues did not take to the airwaves to affirm her in ways that would have given far more weight to her allegations.

    You might like to read the rest of this… truly bewildering, about a peer of her time who did not step forth, and why… for reasons that would make little sense to most of us, who are not in the mixmaster of Planet K Street:

    Why now? Why not then, when Dr. Hill needed your support in her testimony against Clarence Thomas?
    LE: I was counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Joe Biden, so I knew pretty much what the process was. What happens when people make offers to testify, the committee’s role is to advise and consent as part of its Constitutional mandate. Typically, these letters are anonymous, and they’re taken to the nominee who then has a choice of withdrawing their name from nomination or otherwise risk having that person testify against you at the hearing. Quite frankly, the reason that I didn’t come forward at the time that Clarence’s name was before the committee was because I knew from my experience on Capitol Hill that it really wouldn’t make any difference. What happens is that the party in power will nominate whomever they want. In Clarence’s case, he was nominated, of course, as a result of our having a Republican president. And neither Joe Biden nor any of the other Democratic senators wanted to risk being labeled as racist or thought of as being against a black nominee after Clarence played the race card.

    KW: That leads me to a question from Kola Boof: Why didn’t you go to the media back then when the case was such a media circus? We all know that the Democrat males were just as sexist and fearful as the Republicans of sexual harassment being taken seriously. So, they all, as men, took Clarence’s side. Lillian, your story would have gotten Clarence dismissed because having a person of your stature speak up at that time in the heat of it would have been too damaging.
    LE: Because it wouldn’t have made any difference whether I went to the media or not. But most importantly, Clarence and I had a conversation before he was nominated in which he informed me that it was his desire that I always say “No comment!” and not give any interviews at all. I regarded that wish as something I pretty much owed him as a friend and as someone who cared about him. My hope was that he would have a conscience and be compassionate while on the bench of the Supreme Court.

    KW: With legal minds who might have approached Thurgood Marshall’s greatness, why did you stand by and let someone be appointed who will be remembered for less rather than more of what Justice Marshall represented in this court’s history.
    LE: First of all, I had no power to prevent him from being appointed. I didn’t have a vote. And secondly, I hoped that he would transform himself back into a person who did the right thing. Besides, there were many other witnesses available to the Senate Judiciary Committee. But I did write a note to Senator Biden around the time of the hearing him reminding him that I had had a close relationship with Clarence Thomas. I would have appeared, had I been subpoenaed to testify.

    KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Why didn’t you approach Anita Hill to support her allegations in her time of need? Were you afraid of possible repercussions respecting your career?
    LE: There were other individuals who had worked with Clarence who were willing to testify at the confirmation hearings. So, I wasn’t the only one who could have corroborated Anita Hill’s testimony. Furthermore, long before the nomination, I was utterly convinced that she and Clarence had had a sexual relationship.

    you can read the rest here: It is a fascinating look at an alien world that I and many I know would never ever guess is oiled this way. Even animals often try to protect their own kind.

    Generally speaking, in terms of legal trial, discovery, hearing, jury debate… the laying out and delving deep, never happened. Since Professor Hill’s allegations were never taken forward into a lawsuit, her claims were not legally proved or disproved. Thomas denied and continued to deny all allegations.

    Thomas nearly was not nominated, with nearly half of the votes against him: 48 to 52.

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