LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Maybe it's Southern courtesy or his introverted nature that keeps him from interrupting attorneys during oral arguments, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Thursday evening.
Whatever the reason, the Georgia native had a blunt assessment about the rapid-fire questioning from his colleagues during recent hearings on the nation's health care law. The queries weren't helpful to him in deciding the case, he said.
And Thomas suggested his loquacious colleagues should do more listening and less talking.
"I don't see where that advances anything," he said of the questions. "Maybe it's the Southerner in me. Maybe it's the introvert in me, I don't know. I think that when somebody's talking, somebody ought to listen."
His remarks drew applause from the audience that heard Thomas' insights on the court during a 90-minute appearance at the University of Kentucky.
Thomas has gained a reputation for staying silent during oral arguments before the high court.
He said the lawyers presenting their cases are capable and don't need guidance from the justices: "I don't need to hold your hand, help you cross the street to argue a case. I don't need to badger you."
Thomas was asked specifically about the plethora of questions during three days of oral arguments as the justices decide whether to kill or keep President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. But Thomas said it's become habit for justices to interrupt lawyers.
"We have a lifetime to go back in chambers and to argue with each other," he said. "They have 30, 40 minutes per side for cases that are important to them and to the country. They should argue. That's a part of the process.
"I don't like to badger people. These are not children. The court traditionally did not do that. I have been there 20 years. I see no need for all of that. Most of that is in the briefs, and there are a few questions around the edges."