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Who Had the Worst Week in Washington? Justice Clarence Thomas

For years, Supreme Court watchers – a group of people similar to those who build model railroads in their basements – have been waiting for Justice Clarence Thomas to say something. Anything.

For nearly seven years, that group of nerds, er, scholars, has been disappointed as Thomas has uttered not a single word – not one! – during oral arguments before the court.

That all changed Monday, when Thomas spoke during arguments about the qualifications of a lawyer in a Louisiana death-penalty case. But what did he say? No one really knows. The supposition, as expertly explained by The Washington Post’s court correspondent Robert Barnes, is that he was making a joke about lawyers trained at his alma mater, Yale Law School. (Thomas has a famously combative relationship with Yale; in his memoir, he wrote that going to the school was a “mistake.”)

In the past, Thomas has explained his silence as a matter of principle and philosophy. “I think you should allow people to complete their answers and their thought, and to continue their conversation,” he said in a 2009 C-SPAN interview. “I find that coherence that you get from a conversation far more helpful than the rapid-fire questions.”

That the justice broke his vow of silence not to weigh in on matters of high jurisprudence but to supposedly tell a joke – which almost no one heard – is a piece of irony so delicious it makes me hungry.

On the bright side for Thomas, his streak of not asking a question during oral arguments remains intact.

Clarence Thomas, for finally speaking yet not being heard, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.

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