Something strange is happening to the Supreme Court, which just lost Antonin Scalia to an untimely secret society hunting trip heart failure and now has to contend with Clarence Thomas using his voice to ask actual questions during oral arguments.
Thomas, who was last heard in open court three years ago possibly making a stupid Yale joke, hasn’t actually asked a question since February of 2006. Today he asked several, in a case concerning when a domestic abusers’ crimes qualify him or her for a ban on the right to own a firearm.
Thomas was apparently concerned with the effect of a misdemeanor conviction triggering the loss of a constitutional right. A summary of his remarks, via BuzzFeed:
“If there are no further questions,” the federal government’s attorney, Ilana Eisenstein began, after answering questions from the other justices.
“One question,” Thomas said. “Can you give me another example where a misdemeanor suspends a constitutional right permanently?”
The back-and-forth lasted for roughly five minutes, with Thomas asking several questions.
“You’re saying that a misdemeanor conviction results in a lifelong ban on possessing a gun,” Thomas said. “Which at least right now is a constitutional right.”
“In these cases, did any of the petitioners use a weapon?”
Eisenstein responded that they had not.
“So it is not directly related” to the original crime, Thomas asked.
Eisenstein responded that those who commit domestic violence are much more likely to use a gun to kill their partner.
Thomas then floated a hypothetical question, comparing the Second Amendment’s protection of gun ownership to the First Amendment’s protection of speech. He asked if the government could suspend someone’s right to ever publish again if they were convicted of a misdemeanor.
Thomas asking a series of cogent questions—grief makes people do funny things.