CNN legal analyst and author Jeffrey Toobin called Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's silence from the bench 'embarrassing' in an article published in the New Yorker Friday.
Thomas, well known for his lack of public discourse during oral arguments, is marking an anniversary of sorts this Saturday. An anniversary Toobin says reflects poorly on him and on the Court:
As of this Saturday, February 22nd, eight years will have passed since the last time Clarence Thomas asked a question at a Supreme Court oral argument. His behavior on the bench has gone from curious to bizarre to downright embarrassing, for himself and for the institution he represents.
Toobin goes on to characterize Thomas, nominated to the court by President George H.W. Bush, as "checked out" because of his posture during arguments. Toobin also notes Thomas's weight gain, and Thomas's "heavy" looking eyelids. And though Thomas regularly writes and contributes to opinions, Toobin says his lack of engagement during arguments amounts to an abdication of a professional responsibility:
There is more to the job of Supreme Court Justice than writing opinions. The Court’s arguments are not televised (though they should be), but they are public. They are, in fact, the public’s only windows to the Justices’ thought processes, and they offer the litigants and their lawyers their only chance to look these arbiters in the eye and make their case. There’s a reason the phrase “your day in court” resonates. It is an indispensable part of the legal system.
But the process only works if the Justices engage. The current Supreme Court is almost too ready to do so, and sometimes lawyers have a hard time getting a word in edgewise. In question-and-answer sessions at law schools, Thomas has said that his colleagues talk too much, that he wants to let the lawyers say their piece, and that the briefs tell him all he needs to know. But this—as his colleagues’ ability to provoke revealing exchanges demonstrates—is nonsense. Thomas is simply not doing his job.