Justice Clarence Thomas hasn’t asked a question during oral arguments in the last 10 years, but on Monday the Supreme Court justice broke that silence during a case about a ban on gun ownership for domestic-violence offenders.
Justice Thomas spoke for a “lengthy stretch,” according to Cristian Farias in HuffPost Politics.
The case that inspired Thomas to speak focuses on whether “reckless” domestic assault counts as a federal “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” which would ban an offender from firearms possession under current federal law.
The Justice’s line of questioning appears to suggest that he doesn’t favor gun bans for misdemeanor domestic-violence offenders, and that such bans could be a slippery slope that could ultimately deny other constitutional rights.
“Can you give me an area [of law] where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right,” Thomas asked a lawyer for the federal government, Ilana Eisenstein, according to Farias.
“Everyone leaned in disbelieving,” Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick told CNN. “The colloquy went back and forth several times with Thomas pressing the Assistant Solicitor General.”
Thomas’ questions came right after the lawyer arguing for the ban asked if there were any more questions for her.
It was the first time the Supreme Court held oral arguments since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
During an event in North Carolina in June 2012, Thomas said he doesn’t ask questions during oral arguments because he believes they should be removed fully from the process.
“I don’t see where that advances anything,” Thomas said at a speech in 2012. “Maybe it’s the Southerner in me. Maybe it’s the introvert in me, I don’t know. I think that when somebody’s talking, somebody ought to listen.”