Thomas Makes Joke in First High Court Argument Words Since 2006

Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at a U.S. Supreme Court argument for the first time in almost seven years, evoking laughter as he made a wisecrack during a discussion about Ivy League law schools.

Neither the court’s official transcript yesterday nor the audio recording is clear as to exactly what Thomas said. He jumped into the conversation while Justice Antonin Scalia was asking a Louisiana prosecutor about the adequacy of a criminal defendant’s lawyers.

The lawyer, Carla S. Sigler, confirmed first that one member of the defense team was a graduate of Yale Law School and then that a second attended Harvard Law School. Scalia, a Harvard graduate, responded, “son of a gun.”

Thomas, a Yale graduate who until recently had a strained relationship with the school, quipped that a Yale degree could be a sign of incompetence, rather than competence, according to Scotusblog, which tracks the court and is sponsored by Bloomberg Law.

The transcript then indicates laughter, after which Sigler responded, “I would refute that, Justice Thomas.”

Thomas hadn’t asked a question at argument since Feb. 22, 2006, when he interjected in a South Carolina death penalty case. Since then, he had limited his courtroom comments to summaries of his opinions.