Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke during oral arguments this week for the first time in a decade.
Just last week publications across the country marked the anniversary of Thomas’ last question at oral arguments, which came on Feb. 22, 2006. Maybe Thomas was reacting to the headlines, or maybe he was taking up slack after the death of fellow conservative justice and friend Antonin Scalia when he spoke to government attorney Ilana H. Eisenstein during the Voisine v. United States case.
Whatever his reason for the outburst, the exchange between Thomas and Eisenstein left the courtroom in disbelief.
Thomas’ own explanation for his reticence is simple: “I think it’s unnecessary in deciding cases to ask that many questions, and I don’t think it’s helpful,” he told a Harvard Law School group in 2013. “I think we should listen to lawyers who are arguing their cases, and I think we should allow the advocates to advocate.”
“Decade” is a short word, but 10 years is actually a long time. To lend some perspective we offer this list of 10 things that happened during Thomas’ quiet period.
2006: Twitter became a thing
It's hard to believe the omnipresent pithy-idea sharing app has only been with us 10 years, but it's true. How did Donald Trump attack his enemies before Twitter?
2006: We stopped calling Pluto a planet
On Aug. 24, 2006 the heartless dream killers over at the International Astronomical Union created their official definition for the term "planet." Pluto didn't make the cut.
2006-2008: Tiger Woods won four major championships
Golf great Tiger Woods has been a husk of his former self for some time, but Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods was still very much at the top of his game back in early 2006. From 2006 to 2008 Woods won the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship (twice).
2007: Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone
That's right. Thomas' last question before this week came before any of us knew iOS from CSI. Introduced by Apple founder Steve Jobs as “an iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator,” the iPhone now eclipses the computer as the company’s top product.
2008: Facebook overtook MySpace as the most popular social network
In 2006 Facebook was still restricted to college and high school users and MySpace was king of the social media hill. Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm-room creation overtook Tom’s empire in 2008, and went on to conquer Wall Street and establish itself as the only app on your mom’s iPad.
2008: The Large Hadron Collider was inaugurated
2008 and 2012: Former KGB officer Vladimir Putin served as the second and fourth presidents of the Russian Federation
Putin left office on May 7, 2008 and under dubious circumstances returned on May 7, 2012.
2007 to present: The United States suffered through and recovered from (depending on who you ask) a financial crisis
Triggered by the collapse of the housing bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis, the financial crisis brought Wall Street to its knees. The American financial sector is on firmer ground in 2016, but who can say where it will be the next time Thomas speaks?
2008 to present: Robert Downey Jr. appeared as billionaire superhero Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) in six movies
Downey Jr. was still Charlie Chaplin to most people back when Thomas zipped his lips. Since then he has appeared as the now iconic Marvel playboy in six films: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk (post-credits sequence) Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron
2007-2015: Meryl Streep was nominated for six Academy Awards
Critics don’t call her the greatest living actress for their health. Streep has been nominated for a mind-boggling 19 Academy Awards. Six of those nominations came during Thomas’ silent streak:
- 2006: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (The Devil Wears Prada)
- 2009: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Doubt)
- 2010: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Julie & Julia)
- 2012: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (The Iron Lady)*
- 2014: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (August: Osage County)
- 2015: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Into the Woods)
*She won that one