The Associated Press ran an article recently about the fact that Clarence Thomas hasn’t asked a single question during oral arguments in the Supreme Court in over two years. Apparently, the last time he asked a question was on February 22, 2006, 144 cases ago.
Thomas claims that he doesn’t need to ask questions to do the job. When asked at a speaking engagement why his colleagues ask so many questions, he responded, “That’s a fine question. When you figure out the answer, you let me know.” He has also said that he sees no need to engage in the back-and-forth just to hear his own voice, which would seem to imply that he believes some of his colleagues do exactly that. These statements surely do nothing to endear him to his colleagues on the Court, but at least he’s being honest.
I’m no fan of Clarence Thomas, but it seems to me that he’s not being paid to ask questions; he’s being paid to produce opinions. Therefore, how many opinions he has authored seems like a far better measure of whether he’s doing his job than is how many questions he has asked. By that measure, he seems to be holding his own. I looked at all of the decisions issued by the Court in the name of a particular Justice since February 22, 2006. Here’s how many were authored by each Justice:
|# of decisions
From these numbers, it appears that althought Thomas is not exactly a shining star in the firmament of Supreme Court Justices, he’s also not the do-nothing which the AP article might have us believe.
On the other hand, a more comprehensive analysis, which I am not qualified to perform and wouldn’t have the time for even if I were, would be to examine the complexity of the decisions issued by the Court in that time period with the goal of determining whether Thomas or any other Justice is authoring more “light-weight” decisions than the others.
I think it’s rather interesting that the author of the AP article, Mark Sherman, didn’t include an analysis of this sort. It’s a rather obvious thing to do, so I wonder if perhaps Mr. Sherman omitted it because it did not serve his agenda.