Is Thomas’ silence pensive or disrespectful?

Jan Crawford Greenburg, the ABC News Washington correspondent whose recent book Supreme Conflict examines the Roberts Court, says Justice Clarence Thomas’ much-noted silence on the bench during oral argument reflects one of many ways the justice’s philosophy differs from the other justices.

“Thomas doesn’t see the value” of oral argument, Greenburg told DRI meeting attendees during a panel discussion on the Court. “He likes to do things in a written way and that is just not how the other justices are.”

But former chief Supreme Court clerk Peter Ehrenhaft, who served under Chief Justice Earl Warren, said yesterday that Thomas’ silence isn’t the problem. It’s the way he delivers that silence.  As attorneys zealously argue their cases before the bench and field probing questions from the other justices, Thomas can often be seen leaning far back in his chair, looking up at the ceiling, closing his eyes (we’re sure he’s not napping), or whisper-chatting with his bench neighbor, Justice Stephen Breyer.

“It’s disrespectful,” Ehrenhaft opined.

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