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.
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,
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
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
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.