Justice has spoken. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, that is.
Why do we even care? Because it's apparently the first time he's spoken during oral arguments in court in nearly seven years.
Seven years of silence. So what prompted him to speak, and what were his magic words?
Unfortunately, in all of the commotion, the only words that ended up on the record were:
"Well -- he did not."
Let's provide some context here. The case involved the right to a speedy trial. The defendant, Jonathan Boyer, was hoping to overturn his conviction on the grounds that he did not have a speedy trial. He claims that he sat in jail for seven years on murder charges.
During oral arguments, the issue of his court-appointed trial counsel came up. His appeal lawyers raised the issue that his trial lawyers may not have been up to the game. In legalese, that's ineffective assistance of counsel, a Sixth Amendment claim.
Both of those trial lawyers were from Ivy League schools -- Yale and Harvard.
From reports, it appeared that Justice Thomas was raising the question as to whether an Ivy League law degree automatically makes for effective counsel. He seemed to indicate that a law school pedigree did not in and of itself guarantee quality legal representation.
In short, he was hinting that it didn't really matter if the trial lawyers went to an Ivy League school -- essentially, good lawyering is about a lot more than a good law school, he was implying.
But whatever comments he made were lost in the sounds of courtroom laughter. The transcriber was only able to record those four words, "Well -- he did not."
While the Justices typically ask questions of attorneys during oral arguments, Justice Thomas has been known for keeping tight-lipped. He's indicated in the past that he prefers listening. He's even said that his colleagues ask too many questions, making it difficult for the attorneys to make their cases.
Whatever the reason, we now have four words to remember Justice Thomas by, as he retreats back into the shadows of silence for (perhaps) another seven years.
- Justice Thomas Finally Speaks in Sixth Amendment Case (FindLaw's Supreme Court Blog)
- Clarence Thomas Doesn't Care About Law School Rankings Either (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- Sixth Amendment (FindLaw)
- What the Sixth Amendment Guarantees (FindLaw)