Another day, another session in the U.S. Supreme Court, or at least the lawyers arguing a case on a domestic violence statute. Little did everyone know that this would be the day that Clarence Thomas would speak in court for the first time in 10 years.
According to NPR, Thomas broke his silence to ask a Justice Department lawyer whether a misdemeanor crime conviction can lead to a suspension of someone’s constitutional right. This case, Voisine v. United States, deals with a federal law where people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence lose their right to own a gun.
So why did Thomas pick now to speak? The Atlantic’s Garrett Epps, who happened to be observing this session, thinks it’s to step into the role that late Justice Antonin Scalia once occupied.
Scalia’s absence has been notable during argument. One of Scalia’s roles on the bench was to play ideological bad-cop—when a lawyer transgressed against conservative orthodoxy, Scalia would often step in with an aggressive, even intimidating, question. In that role, he played a significant role in moving the valence of argument to the right. And like Thomas, Scalia took on the Second Amendment as his special darling.
Whether this actually comes to pass in the future remains to be seen.