In 2011, the Communication Law Review published a study that analyzed how many laugh-producing remarks each Supreme Court justice had made during the 2006–2007 session. Justice Antonin Scalia led the way with 60. Justice Stephen Breyer was second with 35. All the way down at the bottom was Justice Clarence Thomas, with … zero.
Thomas, in other words, is not the most jocular guy in the world. In fact, he might be the least. We imagine that if Thomas ever tried to actually laugh, he would instead produce a string of dissonant wheezes and belches, à la Rex Banner:
In fact, Thomas doesn’t just avoid joking from the bench: He generally avoids talking entirely. As other justices spend oral arguments probing and prodding the attorneys, Thomas sits silent and stone-faced. In 2009, he explained that he never participates because he already knows how he’s going to decide the case. “Why do you beat up on people if you already know? I don’t know, because I don’t beat up on ‘em,” Thomas told University of Alabama students. “I refuse to participate. I don’t like it, so I don’t do it.”
Up until today, in fact, Thomas had not uttered a single word during oral arguments since February 22, 2006 — nearly seven years. And then, during a discussion this morning of whether a defendant had received adequate counsel, this happened:
JUSTICE SCALIA: She was a graduate of Yale law school, wasn’t she?
MS. SIGLER: She’s a very impressive attorney.
JUSTICE SCALIA: And another of his counsel, Mr. Singer — of the three that he had — he was a graduate of Harvard law school, wasn’t he?
MS. SIGLER: Yes, Your Honor.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Son of a gun.
JUSTICE THOMAS: Well — he did not —(Laughter.)
MS. SIGLER: I would refute that, Justice Thomas.
Hehe, “he did not.” Wait … what? That’s not funny. That’s not anything.
Indeed, in a cruel twist, nobody actually knows what, exactly, Thomas said to break his record-setting silence:
Thomas seemed to be making a light-hearted joke about lawyers trained at his alma mater Yale Law School or its rival, Harvard. But several justices were speaking and laughing at the time, and the court reporter lost Thomas’s comments during the cross talk.
Irony, thy name is Clarence.