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Clearly in response to this diary, Thomas Goldstein, publisher of, offers a different take on the apparently highly significant event of Justice Clarence Thomas breaking his seven year silence at oral argument Monday:

Some of the commentary has devolved into psychoanalysis of the Justice’s supposed hostility towards Yale Law School. The real question to be asked is: can you take a joke?
Why should we listen to Mr. Goldstein?

Because he's in this Courtroom alot, yesterday included:

Most of the Justices were in a lighthearted mood today. There was a lot of banter between them. At one point, the questioning turned to whether the petitioner – a capital defendant – had “competent” counsel. Justice Scalia made the rhetorical point that his lawyer was impressive because she had gone to Yale. Chuckling, Justice Thomas interjected (as I heard it, imperfectly) that fact might make the lawyer “incompetent.”
Gasp! The horror!

But, wait...

In context, no one could think that the line was a genuine attack on Yale. Justice Thomas is a Yale graduate, and he was making a self-deprecating comment.
That's not very Justice-like of him to do in such a decorum-laden forum though, is it?
(This is ordinarily the kind of thing one of the Justices would have whispered jokingly to another, but here Justice Thomas leaned into his microphone.)
So there you have it. Seven years of silence broken, and all he could do was "tell a joke" that on any other day Scalia would've likely put to shame.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
    ~ Jerry Garcia

    by DeadHead on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 02:53:04 AM PST

  •  What's significant here is that Clarence Thomas... (5+ / 0-)

    is so judicially incompetent, he has essentially never spoken during Supreme Court proceedings. Never asked a meaningful question of a litigant. Never written an opinion of any significance.

    In short, he has no business being on the nation's highest court.

    And when he finally does open his's to tell a lame joke.

    I guess the joke is on us.

    •  I agree, I don't care for him either (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Paulie200, Dave in Northridge

      But until he retires, or less likely, is impeached, we're stuck with him, unfortunately.

      I don't know what he could've said any less jokingly that would have met with approval, so at least he made the other Justices laugh, liberal ones included, right? ;)

      Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
      ~ Jerry Garcia

      by DeadHead on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:49:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  apparently, all the justices (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DeadHead, Arctic Belle

        and court staff like him, personally.

        Scalia and Ginsburg are famously opera buddies.  contrast this with William O. Douglas, one of the greatest people to serve on the Court, who was universally despised, even by Black and Brennan.  (He did what anyone with life tenure should do -- burn through his work -- he was unbelievably prolific as a writer -- and marry successively younger women.)

        Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.

        by Loge on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 06:04:49 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  to a point (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      i think he doesn't ask questions at oral argument because he is so ideological, he has his mind made up.  A lot of his dissents are interesting to read, and he clearly understands the issues, but he's so extreme he can't really engage in conversation with the other justices, even Scalia.  He'll often go to some first principle understanding of an issue, resulting in claims that the free speech clause doesn't apply to minors, or that states can establish churches but not the federal government.  It can be read as a function of incompetence, in that he's simply not suited to have the conversation the other justices are having, but I think it's more to do with willfulness.

      he has written opinions of consequence, though.  ebay v. mercexchange was pretty significant in patent litigation.  no majority opinions on hot button issues, but his writing is never quite as childish as Scalia's.

      Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.

      by Loge on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 06:01:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Making jokes while considering whether a man (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DeadHead, elmo, isabelle hayes, blueoasis

    is to be put to death is not evidence of a judicious temperament.
    But then, the endemically resentful seem naturally inclined to take satisfaction from the fact that someone else is about to "get his (just deserts)."
    Jealousy seems to arise from some disconnect between expectation and experience.
    At one time, I was content to think there had been lots of incompetent white judges, why not a black one. But Clarence Thomas is a particularly nasty piece of work. He uses humor to denigrate.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:30:52 AM PST

    •  That's Scalia's MO. He's the most vocal. (7+ / 0-)

      As to Thomas in this instance, as from the SCOTUSblog post:

      The point was not a comment on the “competence” of lawyers generally, but their ability to handle the quite specialized role of trial counsel in a murder case. Yale famously tends to train lawyers more towards theory than practice. So he was just joking that, contrary to Justice Scalia’s suggestion, maybe you wouldn’t want someone just out of Yale to defend you in a murder case. That’s obviously right.
      I'm not defending the guy, just offering another perspective from somebody who was there.

      Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
      ~ Jerry Garcia

      by DeadHead on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:39:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And I have to admit to a prejudice that was formed (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        during his confirmation hearings and has not changed. Clarence Thomas is a bully.

        We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

        by hannah on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:29:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I didn't think about that... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          hannah, OLinda

          I understand your comment more fully now that you refer to his confirmation hearing. That makes more sense. His hearing occurred when I was rather young and not as engaged in politics as I have become in later years, so I tend to "forget" about them, though I am aware of their significance. Ignorance on my part.

          Scalia can be rather snotty during oral argument, on a more frequent basis, which was what I was referring to.

          Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
          ~ Jerry Garcia

          by DeadHead on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 11:39:21 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thomas (4+ / 0-)

    Someone replied to a comment I made in the diary at your first link with this:

    JUSTICE SCALIA: She was a graduate of Yale law school, wasn’t she?

    MS. SIGLER: She’s a very impressive attorney.

    JUSTICE SCALIA: And another of his counsel, Mr. Singer — of the three that he had — he was a graduate of Harvard law school, wasn’t he?

    MS. SIGLER: Yes, Your Honor.

    JUSTICE SCALIA: Son of a gun.

    JUSTICE THOMAS: Well — he did not -­ (Laughter.)

    MS. SIGLER: I would refute that, Justice Thomas.

    JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Counsel, do you want to define constitutionally adequate counsel? Is it anybody who’s graduated from Harvard and Yale?

    JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Or even just passed the Bar?

    MS. SIGLER: Or LSU law.

    So, if Goldstein is correct, Thomas must have said something like "Well - he did not have adequate counsel then."

    Although a throw away comment, I still think it's significant since it's his first spoken words in so long. I hope it eventually shows up in the transcript. Maybe it is the start of something, and Thomas will become the court jester, throwing out a joke now and then.

  •  case (8+ / 0-)

    Talking about Thomas joking in a capital case made me interested in what the case was about. I found this:

    Issue: Whether a state’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent defendant for five years as a direct result of the prosecution’s choice to seek the death penalty should be weighed against the state for speedy trial purposes.
    Someone had to wait 5 years for a trial because the state would not provide counsel? Not too speedy.
    •  more (4+ / 0-)
      In accordance with the Louisiana court rules, the State appointed Boyer capitally-certified counsel, but a “funding crisis” prevented the State from funding Boyer’s counsel for five years and proceeding to trial.

      Boyer appealed his convictions on numerous grounds, including violations of his statutory and constitutional speedy-trial rights. In particular, Boyer alleged the seven-year delay between his original indictment and trial, during which the State held him in jail without bond, caused his mental deterioration and the loss of witnesses, including William Gallier, thereby prejudicing his defense. The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Boyer’s convictions and sentences, and the Louisiana Supreme Court denied Boyer’s petition for a writ of certiorari. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case, limited to the question of whether Louisiana’s failure to fund Boyer’s capitally-certified counsel for five years should be weighed against the State for speedy trial purposes.

  •  I think Thomas is smart enough. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes, Loge, DeadHead

    I really don't know why he doesn't speak.  I find it fascinating because it's an amazing display of self control.  I wonder if it's because of his Catholic schooling and one-time vocation to become a priest...he's got some powerful examples of silence there.  I don't blame him for being on the court--that's the fault of the people who failed to oppose him.  I just blame him for having dumb and hurtful ideas about justice and society.

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 04:39:51 AM PST

  •  Bush 41 smacked us in the face with Thomas (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, DeadHead, janetsal

    as a "token" to replace Thurgood Marshall as the only black Supreme.  He is a perfect insult to women who suffer on the job sexual harrassment. Seating him also effectively blocked any real chance for getting an outstanding legal mind like Marshall to inspire/represent black jurists.

    Bush 43 followed daddy's pattern by answering the need to end the dearth of female legal minds to balance top court for half our populace -- by smacking women in the face with Harriet Meirs choice.  

    We don't need quotas as much as we need qualified -- most especially because there is no higher place to appeal wrong decisions by this 9 person panel.

    One of the worst harms being done by Rs in Congress is slow playing  Ds confirmation to lower courts.  This is the pipeline from which future Supremes usually emerge.   And justice is being denied by delaying adequate numbers of judges on the bench, which slows down time between event  and trial.  

    We truly cannot get a fair trial when speedy trial is nearly non-existent.    This is all too common -- and not just in death penalty cases.  


    De fund + de bunk = de EXIT--->>>>>

    by Neon Mama on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 08:36:13 AM PST

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