(WASHINGTON) — As the Supreme Court justices Tuesday fired questions on the Obamacare mandate across the bench, one voice was notably — but perhaps predictably — silent. So far every justice on the bench has spoken up on the health care law except for one: Justice Clarence Thomas.
Indeed, if you search Tuesday’s 126-page transcript of arguments, you won’t find Thomas’ name a single time.
It has now been six years since the justice has asked questions during oral arguments, although he certainly has read his opinions from the bench in his robust baritone.
Thomas has said that he goes into the oral argument sessions knowing how he will decide a case so he doesn’t ask questions.
The silence may have been welcomed by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who could barely speak a few sentences before a justice interjected with a question from the “hot bench.”
Of the few times in recent memory that Justice Thomas has felt compelled to join the fray, it was during a hearing in 2002 that stunned the audience most. Speaking passionately on the issue of banning the burning of the cross, he said, “Now, it’s my understanding that we had almost 100 years of lynching and activity in the South by the Knights of Camellia and — and the Ku Klux Klan, and this was a reign of terror and the cross was a symbol of that reign of terror. Was — isn’t that significantly greater than intimidation or a threat?” Thomas asked Justice Department lawyer Michael Dreeben.
“Well, I think they’re co-extensive, Justice Thomas, because it is –” Dreeben replied before he was cut off.
“Well, my fear is, Mr. Dreeben, that you’re actually understating the symbolism on — of and the effect of the cross, the burning cross. I — I indicated, I think, in the Ohio case that the cross was not a religious symbol and that it has — it was intended to have a virulent effect. And I — I think that what you’re attempting to do is to fit this into our jurisprudence rather than stating more clearly what the cross was intended to accomplish and, indeed, that it is.”
The audio of Thomas’ questioning can be heard here.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Tom LoBianco, Deirdre Walsh and Tal Kopan, CNN