The silence is broken.
For the first time in nearly seven years, Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday spoke to a lawyer presenting a case during oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.
While his utterance was not in the form of a question and consisted of a mere four words, it breaks a silence dating to February 22, 2006, during an argument over the admission of forensic evidence in a South Carolina death penalty case.
Thomas’s silence stands out because the other eight justices are active questioners during the hourlong oral arguments. The end of that silence caused a stir among reporters, who sit together in the courtroom.
Since joining the Supreme Court in 1991, Thomas, 64, has given many reasons for his lack of questions.
These have included a preference for listening, developed after classmates during his childhood made fun of a dialect he spoke when growing up in Savannah, Georgia.
Thomas also has suggested that his colleagues ask too many questions, making it hard for lawyers to make their cases.