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article imageSupreme Court justice asks questions for first time in 10 years

By Nathan Salant     Mar 2, 2016 in Politics
Washington - Spectators gasped Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a gun ownership case and Justice Clarence Thomas asked questions aloud for the first time in 10 years.
Thomas, 68, who was nominated for a seat on the court in 1991, posed a series of questions for a U.S. Justice Dept. lawyer defending the constitutionality of a federal law that bans gun ownership by people convicted of domestic violence.
"Ms. Eisenstein, one question," Thomas said as the courtroom quieted down, according to the Associated Press.
"This is a misdemeanor violation (but) it suspends a constitutional right," Thomas asked. "Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?"
The case began the second week of arguments since Justice Antonin Scalia, leader of the court's conservative wing, died under still-unexplained circumstances in Texas.
Scalia and Thomas sat next to each other for seven years at the court's headquarters in Washington.
Scalia's chair has been draped in black since his death on Feb. 13.
It was during an unremarkable argument about Second Amendment gun rights that Thomas suddenly spoke up, and then continued debating the question with government attorney Ilana Eisenstein.
After Eisenstein answered that violations of other laws could limit First Amendment rights, Thomas spoke up again.
"OK," Thomas said. "So can you think of a First Amendment suspension or a suspension of a First Amendment right that is permanent?"
None of the other justices, who usually have many questions for the attorneys appearing before them — except for Thomas — had asked about the subject Thomas had raised.
Earlier, the justices appeared to support the government's contention that the prohibition could apply if the abuse was merely reckless, and not intentional.
The decision is not expected for several months.
Thomas last asked a question in court on Feb. 22, 2006.
He has said he didn't need to ask questions because he relied on written briefs both sides files in every case.
Plus, Thomas' participation in oral arguments apparently did not reflect a trend.
The justice did not speak during arguments in the court's second case of the day, the AP said.
More about Thomas, Supreme court, United States, Silence, oral arguments
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