The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every level of the legal system all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Since last year, the Court has been conducting oral arguments via telephone. One byproduct of this change is that Justice Clarence Thomas has been a more active questioner than he has ever been since joining the Court. The New York Times reports:
Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went a decade without asking a question from the Supreme Court bench, is about to complete a term in which he was an active participant in every single argument.
Justice Thomas’s switch from monkish silence to gregarious engagement is a byproduct of the pandemic, during which the court has heard arguments by telephone. The justices now ask questions one at a time, in order of seniority.
One of his former law clerks called Justice Thomas' increased participation "a lemonade out of lemons situation."
A former solicitor general under the George W. Bush Administration said: "He is an excellent questioner, and an important voice on the court."
The SCOTUS questioning format during the COVID pandemic has spotlighted Justice Thomas's brilliance. https://t.co/66A28tIdsW— JCN (@judicialnetwork) May 3, 2021
In the past, Justice Thomas has given different explanations for his silence during oral arguments including his disagreement with the way oral arguments are formatted.
According to a recent poll, Justice Thomas is most popular member of the Court among Republicans.
Poll: Clarence Thomas is the most popular Supreme Court justice among Republicans https://t.co/tM2gltdKnL pic.twitter.com/1ml37Vn0oA— The Hill (@thehill) March 19, 2021
It comes as no surprise that Thomas' popularity among conservatives has made him a target for cancellation. Most recently, a popular documentary about his life was inexplicably removed from Amazon's streaming platform — during Black History Month nonetheless.
Last week, members of the U.S. Senate led by Senator Tom Cotton and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos questioning the documentary's removal.
Amazon's decision to pull Justice Thomas' documentary from their streaming service makes it clear Amazon isn't concerned with "Amplifying Black Voices," they're only concerned with "Amplifying Liberal Black Voices."https://t.co/7cv2SKh7mb— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) April 29, 2021
While it is unlikely that Justice Thomas will continue his robust participation in oral arguments once the Court returns to its normal format, the increased insight into the brilliant legal mind of Clarence Thomas has been a pleasant outcome to otherwise inconvenient changes to how the Court normally operates.