Sunday Front Page: Clarence Thomas Caught in Quiet-Gate Controversy!

Besides the drumbeat of criticism of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over his speaking engagements in front of conservative groups, the Times updated another traditional line of Thomas criticism on Sunday's front page: He doesn't speak during Supreme Court arguments (as if that would make the Times any less dismissive of his conservative philosophy). The latest iteration of the criticism is headlined "No Argument: Thomas Keeps 5-Year Silence," from Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak. And this time, the Times has figures to back up its fascinating premise.

Legal reporter Neil Lewis wrote a story about it for the December 17, 2000 Week in Review. Former Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse devoted her March 11, 2010 column to Thomas's long silence. Some excerpts from Liptak's front-page contribution to this vital topic:

The anniversary will probably be observed in silence.

A week from Tuesday, when the Supreme Court returns from its midwinter break and hears arguments in two criminal cases, it will have been five years since Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken during a court argument.

If he is true to form, Justice Thomas will spend the arguments as he always does: leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, rubbing his eyes, whispering to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, consulting papers and looking a little irritated and a little bored. He will ask no questions.

In the past 40 years, no other justice has gone an entire term, much less five, without speaking at least once during arguments, according to Timothy R. Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. Justice Thomas's epic silence on the bench is just one part of his enigmatic and contradictory persona. He is guarded in public but gregarious in private. He avoids elite universities but speaks frequently to students at regional and religious schools. In those settings, he rarely dwells on legal topics but is happy to discuss a favorite movie, like "Saving Private Ryan."

Here's Liptak uncovering Quiet-Gate.

Justice Thomas has given various and shifting reasons for declining to participate in oral arguments, the court's most public ceremony.

He has said, for instance, that he is self-conscious about the way he speaks. In his memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," he wrote that he had been teased about the dialect he grew up speaking in rural Georgia. He never asked questions in college or law school, he wrote, and he was intimidated by some fellow students.

Elsewhere, he has said that he is silent out of simple courtesy.