Friday, November 16, 2007

Not a Question

Well, that settles it. One of our Supreme Court Justice is at the very least an arrogant ass, if not an outright fool (via Volokh):

At one point, he was asked, "Why do your colleagues ask so many questions during oral arguments?"

"I did not plant that question," the justice swore. "When you figure it out, let me know."

Thomas is the least chatty of the nine justices. He has said he prefers to let lawyers lay out their arguments with few interruptions, though some have interpreted his reticence as indifference.

"One thing I learned in the last 16 years is that you can do this job without asking a single question," Thomas said, to rousing applause.

Thomas has been long famous for his unwillingness to ask questions at oral argument. Asking questions at oral argument is not really all that unusual, since the entire purpose is for the justices to ask questions that weren't addressed adequately in the appellants' briefs, or put the lawyers for both sides on the spot with tough hypotheticals. But apparently there's at least a few in the Federalist Society who think that our well-paid and pampered Supreme Court Justice are required only to sit at oral arguments and maintain an attitude of wise disaffection, gazing down upon advocates who render their arguments as if they were speaking to silent and beatific oracles. Of course, Thomas hardly fits that vision either, as he's also well-known for rocking his chair back and forth, staring at the ceiling, or cracking wise with fellow justices, activities which do not qualify as "interruptions" I suppose.

In all seriousness, the idea that there is simply no need to ask questions is ridiculous. It is simply impossible for the advocates for either party to adequately cover every issue in their briefs to the court. They'll miss something that an intrepid judge is going to want to talk about or explore in greater detail. That doesn't mean that every justice will have a question at every oral argument, but some of them will...and should. At every level of the judiciary, from state district court to federal appellate court, judges use oral arguments as a chance to tease out critical issues that they must ponder before rendering a decision. Apparently Thomas is so filled with wisdom that he can make decisions on important cases without the benefit of those extra tidbits of knowledge and reasoning. Or in the alternative, he's an arrogant jack-ass who is dismissive of the opinions of others and makes up his mind before he has sufficient reason to do so. You be the judge.


adam said...

Scalia has also made up his mind long before oral arguments - he just asks questions to try to show how smart he is.

Xanthippas said...

True, but at least Scalia treats the advocates with a modicum of respect and decency. Thomas simply doesn't care.

Nat-Wu said...

So Thomas is a jackass in and out of court, whereas Scalia is only a jackass outside. Boy, these guys are great.