Yesterday Associate Justice Clarence Thomas spoke publicly from the bench for the first time since Feb. 22, 2006. According to the Supreme Court’s official transcript, Thomas broke his almost-seven-year silence with the words, “Well – he did not —.” One Court analyst called those four words “perhaps the most important speech in Thomas’ 21-year career on the bench” – although no one in the courtroom seems to have any idea what the enigmatic jurist actually meant. Professor Emily I. Dunno, who teaches linguistics and constitutional law at Southern Indiana Law School, pointed to the dashes for insight into his potential meaning. “Half as many dashes as words,” said Dr. Dunno. “That’s a lot of dashes.”
There are various explanations for Thomas’ taciturnity. He has written that he is self-conscious of his rural southern accent, and at other times has said he comes to listen not to talk, and that his verbose colleagues make it hard to join the discussion. My own thought is that asking questions will only muddy the thoughts in Thomas’ rigidly made-up mind.
It hardly seems more than two decades since the Bush administration cynically pushed through a man, who openly resented the idea of affirmative action, to replace Thurgood Marshall, the civil-rights titan who insisted on the justice of such action to confront three centuries of slavery and Jim Crow. Thomas was confirmed 52-48, the smallest margin in over a century, and his subsequent silence has obscured the extremity of his opinions on an increasingly right-wing Court.