Quip Heard 'Round The Court: Thomas Breaks Silence

4:03 PM, Jan 14, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC -- It was just a quick quip, delivered during an hour-long argument over a defendant's right to a speedy trial, but it sent legal scribes racing to the history books.

Shortly before noon Monday, during oral arguments inside the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas spoke.

He had not spoken in open court for nearly seven years. While the eight other justices usually wait just split seconds before peppering lawyers with non-stop questions, Thomas hasn't asked a question since Feb. 22, 2006.

He didn't ask one Monday, either -- but he did pipe up with a quip, apparently about Yale Law School, his alma mater, and its rival Harvard as well.

The discussion focused on the adequacy of the lawyers provided by the state of Louisiana to a defendant later convicted of second-degree murder. Thomas whispered something to Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, seated on his left, who then pointed out that one member of the legal team graduated from Yale, another from Harvard.

At that point, Thomas leaned into his microphone and appeared to joke about the value of that education. The unofficial transcript only caught him saying "Well, he did not...." But his colleagues on the bench burst into laughter, and the state's assistant district attorney, Carla Sigler, said, "I would refute that, Justice Thomas."

It wasn't the first time Thomas has denigrated the value of an Ivy League education. A Yale Law School graduate himself, he wrote in his 2007 book, My Grandfather's Son, that his degree "bore the taint of racial preference" because he had been admitted under the school's affirmative action program.

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