It seems fitting that when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally spoke from the bench after seven years of silence, no one is exactly sure what he said or what he meant.
Let the official record show the justice is believed to have said this week: "Well — he did not …," during oral arguments before the court in a Louisiana death penalty case. But the rest of Thomas' remarks — if there were any —were lost to history as banter from other justices and laughter from spectators made it difficult for the court reporter to capture any additional repartee from the sphinx-like jurist.
Outside the court, Thomas has given conflicting explanations for his stoic presence on the bench, citing shyness, extending courtesy to counsel and the inability to get a word in edgewise among his more loquacious peers. In any event, until this week Thomas' voice had not been heard in court since Feb. 22, 2006.
Longtime court observers have speculated Thomas was attempting to make a joke at the expense of Yale Law School, or perhaps it was Harvard Law. Alas, we may never know for sure. Justice Thomas isn't talking.