-by Mike Sacks
October 15, 2011- Justice Clarence Thomas was sworn in to the Supreme Court on Oct. 22, 1991, and for the rest of the '90s could be counted on to chime in a few times a year (or every other year) with questions to the parties presenting their cases before him. But by the early 2000s, the questions had slowed to the point that the lawyers appearing before — and other justices sitting on — the late-era Rehnquist Court had little reason to expect to engage with Thomas during oral argument.
The birth of the Roberts Court brought new hope. Three times during the 2005-06 term, Thomas leaned forward and, instead of reaching for a brief per his ordinary routine, he turned on his microphone and made his concerns known. These contributions, although paltry relative to those of his colleagues, constituted an inquisitorial deluge compared to the silence streak Thomas has maintained ever since.
On Nov. 8, 2005, about a month after Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Court, Thomas broke what was then his longest stretch of quiet to telegraph his thoughts in Georgia v. Randolph. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben — who seems to be Thomas' streak-breaking target of choice — had been taking a drubbing from Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg over his argument that police officers may search a home when one resident has consented and the other has objected. Toward the end of Dreeben's argument, Thomas spoke up to help him out.