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Supreme Birthdays

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court may take a little time in between handing down a string of blockbuster rulings this week  — on same-sex marriage, voting rights, affirmative action, workplace harassment and genetic drug liability, just to name a few — to have some cake and sing “Happy Birthday.”

Two justices celebrate birthdays this week. Justice Clarence Thomas turned 65 Sunday, and Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor will celebrate her 59th birthday Tuesday.

Thomas unaware he was the talk of the town

Justice Clarence Thomas made headlines when he broke his self-imposed code of silence during oral arguments in January. But apparently, he was unaware of the buzz his rare remark created.

When a student asked Thomas, who was speaking Tuesday at Duquesne University, what he thought of the media’s attention to his broken silence, Thomas said it was the first he’d heard of it.

“Well, first of all, my philosophy about the news is never watching it,” Justice Thomas said, to applause and laughter according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Thomas said he missed the early years of his Supreme Court tenure, when justices were allowed to ask a series of questions before the next justice would chime in. Things are different now, he said.

“Today, it’s just, my goodness, everybody’s got a question,” Thomas said, the Pot-Gazette reports. “I just think there are too many questions. I think that we have capable advocates and we should let the capable advocates talk.”

Mystery solved: What Thomas actually said

Brace yourselves: The simmering mystery over the words Justice Clarence Thomas used to break his nearly seven-year silence during oral arguments has been solved!

The U.S. Supreme Court has published the final – and revised – transcript from oral arguments in the ineffective assistance case Boyer v. Louisiana revealing the joke Thomas cracked in response to Justice Antonin G. Scalia’s observation that the defendant’s attorneys went to Harvard and Yale law schools.

“Well, there – see, he did not provide good counsel,” Thomas replied, drawing laughter from his colleagues.


The Funniest Justice, week 8: Breaking silence with laughter

History has been made: For the first time since DC Dicta began counting the laughs at oral arguments, Justice Clarence Thomas is on the board! The usually silent justice made a funny – if unintelligible – comment Monday, lifting him from the last-place spot he’s occupied in our tally since it began six years ago.

(Not to be outdone, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. also earned his first laugh of the term during the same argument, leaving Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only justice yet to show a funny side).

Here are the stats after eight weeks of arguments:

Justice Antonin G. Scalia: 25

Justice Stephen G. Breyer: 19

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: 7

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: 6

Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor: 4

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 1

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.: 1

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0


Thomas speaks, but not clearly

Today Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did what he hasn’t done since 2006: made a comment during oral arguments. He even earned a laugh in the process. There’s one problem: no one – including the Court’s transcriptionist – is sure what he said.

During oral arguments in a case considering competence of counsel, Justice Antonin G. Scalia pointed out that one attorney “was a graduate of Harvard law school, wasn’t he?”

When attorney Carla Sigler answered that he was, Scalia, a Harvard Law grad, responded: “Son of a gun.”

In response, Thomas said something to the effect that a degree from Yale – his alma mater – didn’t ensure competency, which drew laughs from his bench mates. But according to the transcript Thomas said: “Well — he did not –,” so his first comment in nearly 7 years was not exactly on the record.

UPDATE: Perhaps Thomas said: “Or incompetent.” Developing…

UPDATE II: Maybe it was: “Well, he did not have competent counsel, then.”

Supreme Christmas visitor

The holiday season can often mean the arrival of unexpected visitors. But for 94-year-old Edith Mathis, an assisted living home resident in Richmond Hill, Ga., her Christmas day visitor wasn’t just any friend of the family.

Justice Clarence Thomas dropped by the facility on Christmas Day to say hello to Mathis, who knew Thomas’ grandparents in Pin Point, Ga., Thomas’ home town. More here from WTOC.

Thomas discusses equality, Supreme Court dynamics

Justice Clarence Thomas, speaking at an event in Washington honoring the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, said growing up in segregated Georgia never effected his self esteem “because from day one, we knew we were equal.”

“It said so,” Thomas said. “The nuns said so, my grandfather said so, and by golly, the Declaration of independence said so.”

Thomas also echoed the sentiment of other justices in recent months, saying that the Court is not riddled with division now, nor during any time during his two-decade tenure.

“I’ve been there now though a number of members of the Court,” Thomas said. “And in the years that I have been there, I honestly come away thinking that every member really wants to make it work. Every single member. They don’t agree with each other, but somehow they agree that this is more important than we are, and we’ve got to make this work.”

More here from ABC News. Get more Supreme Court news from the Supreme Court Report at Lawyers USA.

Justice Who?

Can you name these folks?

If Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., cares at all about being well known, we have good news and bad news for him.

The good news: he is the most well-known justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a new survey by FindLaw.com. The bad news, only 20 percent of Americans surveyed could name him.

Those surveyed had much more trouble naming the other eight justices of the Court. While 16 percent of those surveyed could name Justice Antonin G. Scalia or Justice Clarence Thomas, only 3 percent could name Justice Stephen G. Breyer, making him the least known justice.

Only 34 percent of those surveyed could name any justice, according to the study.A mere 1 percent could correctly name all nine justices.

And the Funniest Justice is…

He’s made cracks about bad dictionaries, deadpanned about deporting babies to China, and quipped that a justice’s job could at times violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

By making the audience and other justices of the Supreme Court laugh during oral arguments more than five dozen times, Justice Antonin G. Scalia sailed to an easy victory as this term’s Funniest Justice. Since DC Dicta began keeping count, Scalia is undefeated.

So the real race was for second place. And though Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. made a real contest of it, it was Justice Stephen G. Breyer who walked away with the silver this term, with Roberts coming in third.

According to the laugh count, as noted in the Court’s official transcripts, every justice earned at least one laugh this term except Justice Clarence Thomas, who hasn’t made a comment during oral arguments – humorous or otherwise – since Feb. 22, 2006. Let’s just hope that when he does speak, we’ll get a chuckle out of it.

Here is the final tally:

Justice Antonin Scalia: 63

Justice Stephen Breyer: 47

Chief Justice John G. Roberts: 26

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 11

Justice Elena Kagan: 7

Justice Samuel Alito: 5

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 2

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1

Justice Clarence Thomas: 0