Justice Clarence Thomas, famous for his silence during court hearings, has asked a question during oral arguments for the first time in over a year.
During the court’s Monday teleconference hearing of a case regarding hotel reservation site Booking.com, Thomas — who last asked a question during hearings in 2016 — shocked viewers after being called upon by Chief Justice John Roberts.
“Could Booking acquire a vanity number, 1-800-BOOKING, for example, that is similar to 1-800-PLUMBING, which is a registered mark?” Thomas asked of Justice Department attorney Erica Ross.
Thomas proved to be surprisingly talkative during the hearing, also asking several other questions of Booking.com lawyers. This incident marks only the third time Thomas has aksed questions during a Supreme Court hearing in over a decade.
The Supreme Court of the United States has undergone some historic changes over the last several weeks in an attempt to adapt to the new normal foisted upon the US by COVID-19.
While the court was in limbo for several weeks about how to proceed in the new era of social distancing, it was officially announced that hearings will proceed for the next two weeks via teleconferencing.
The Washington Times reported on Sunday that “Convening by telephone, the justices will break a 231-year tradition of in-person hearings. They have scheduled 10 cases over two weeks for the phoned-in arguments.”
Monday’s hearing also marked the first time that the court has broadcast proceedings to the general public in real time.
The Supreme Court building closed March 13th as the virus outbreak began to proliferate throughout the nation. Many of the court’s justices are highly at risk for contracting the deadly disease, with six of the nine judges above the age of 65.