Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at oral argument for the first time since February of 2006, breaking nearly seven years of silence. While the occasion was historic, initial reports of Thomas' remark suggested that the words he uttered actually weren't.
With the release of the Supreme Court's complete transcript, we now know that he said more than simply, "Well -- he did not." But not much more.
According to the document, oral arguments in Boyer v. Louisiana were proceeding on Jan. 14 when Thomas felt inclined to weigh in during discussion about the academic credentials of the lawyers who were at issue in the case. Contemplating whether Louisiana's five-year failure to fund a lawyer for an indigent defendant facing the death penalty undermined the defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that attorneys who eventually represented the defendant had been educated at Harvard and Yale law schools.
"Well, there -- see, he did not provide good counsel," Thomas, a Yale graduate, chimed in referring to one of the lawyers in question.
It's still unclear whether Thomas was taking a swipe at rival Harvard, or perhaps at Yale itself.
As HuffPost's Mike Sacks reported earlier this month, the latter would not have been unusual for Thomas:
Nor should his denigration of his alma mater, Yale Law School, shock those familiar with Thomas' biography. The law school is repeatedly ranked first in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's listings, but Thomas has said he believes the value of his education there was "discounted" by his admission under the school's affirmative action policy. In a 2007 interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," Thomas said, "I still have a 15¢ sticker on the frame of my law degree. It's tainted, so I just leave it in the basement." He returned to Yale Law School in a detente of sorts in December 2011 to teach a class, attend a reception and speak to the Black Law Student Association.
Robert Barnes of the Washington Post suggests that Thomas' crack could have been aimed at the entire Ivy League institution, of which the justice is a well-known critic.