Clarence Thomas breaks 7-year court silence, with crack about Harvard Law

Updated
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gestures while taking part in a panel discussion at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 26,...
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gestures while taking part in a panel discussion at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 26,...
Michael Dwyer/AP

For the first time in almost seven years, Justice Clarence Thomas spoke aloud during oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

The silence was broken today during a hearing for the Boyer v. Louisiana case, in which lawyers for Jonathan Edward Boyer are trying to have his murder conviction overturned. The conversation drifted to whether or not his lawyers—Harvard Law grad Stephen Singer and Yale Law grad Christine Lehman—were to represent him.

Here’s how Reuters reported the exchange:

“She was a graduate of Yale Law School, wasn’t she?” Justice Antonin Scalia, a Harvard Law graduate, asked Carla Sigler, a lawyer representing Louisiana, according to an unofficial transcript.

“She’s a very impressive attorney,” Sigler responded.

“And another of his counsel, Mr. Singer—of the three that he had—he was a graduate of Harvard Law School, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, your honor.”

“Son of a gun.”

Thomas, a Yale Law graduate, then chimed in. He appeared to hint, facetiously, that Singer’s law school pedigree didn’t guarantee quality representation for his client.

“Well—he did not,” Thomas said as laughter enveloped the courtroom and some justices appeared to be making side comments.


While he broke his courtroom silence, Thomas did not break with his tradition of not asking questions during oral arguments. When asked about it in the past, Thomas has justified his courtroom silence by arguing that his colleagues ask enough questions already, perhaps too many. He once joked that they “should shut up!”

The last time Thomas asked a question? February 22, 2006, during oral arguments for a death-penalty case.

Clarence Thomas breaks 7-year court silence, with crack about Harvard Law

Updated