Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, known for being notoriously silent while on the bench, stunned nearly everyone in the courtroom Monday after he asked several questions during arguments for the first time in a decade.
The rare event marked the second week the court has heard arguments since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, according to NBC Washington, and was a week after the 10-year anniversary of the last time Thomas asked a question during oral arguments.
The case that inspired Thomas to speak was Voisine v. United States, which was centered on a ban on gun ownership for domestic violence offenders, specifically, whether a conviction for "reckless" domestic assault counts as a federal "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence," which would bar an offender from firearms possession under federal law.
The questions he asked were made to government attorney Ilana H. Eisenstein, who had already answered a barrage of questions from other justices only to be caught off guard when Thomas jumped in. However, it wasn't just Eisenstein who was caught off guard, almost everyone except for the other justices was in shock, according to the Seattle Times.
"Everyone leaned in disbelieving," said Slate's Dahlia Lithwick who was in the Court room. "The colloquy went back and forth several times with Thomas pressing the Assistant Solicitor General."
Courtroom reporters noted there was a tense moment, which some say felt like five minutes, when Thomas pushed Eisenstein to give another example where a misdemeanor conviction suspends a constitutional right.
While Thomas wasn't vocal on the bench, he was certainly vocal off of it and he offered a variety of reasons throughout the years for his silence when some accused him of ignoring his duties, according to CNN.
"We have a lifetime to go back in chambers and to argue with each other," Thomas said in 2013 according to the Associated Press. He noted that lawyers only have 30 minutes to argue and should be able to use all of their allotted time to do so. "They should argue. That's a part of the process."