Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is bothered by this. A lot.
In question-and-answer sessions at law schools, Thomas has said that his colleagues talk too much, that he wants to let the lawyers say their piece, and that the briefs tell him all he needs to know. But this—as his colleagues’ ability to provoke revealing exchanges demonstrates—is nonsense. Thomas is simply not doing his job.
Not so fast there. Damon Root disagrees:
This is nonsense. I’ve attended a number of oral arguments in the past two years and I’ve routinely seen Thomas leaning forward, watching the lawyers (and his colleagues), and even conferring quite enthusiastically with both Justice Stephen Breyer (to his right) and Justice Antonin Scalia (to his left). In fact, during the first day of the March 2012 Obamacare oral arguments, which centered on whether an 1867 tax law barred the legal challenge to the health care law from going forward, I watched Thomas and Breyer together poring over a massive book that appeared to be a volume of the U.S. tax code. What were they up to? It’s possible Thomas was suggesting a line of questioning for Breyer to use. After all, as Thomas told an audience at Harvard law school, he sometimes helps generate Breyer’s material. “I’ll say, ‘What about this, Steve,’ and he’ll pop up and ask a question,” Thomas said. “So you can blame some of those [Breyer questions] on me.”