The last time Thomas spoke during oral arguments was Feb. 22, 2006, until he spoke out in jest about the defendant's legal counsel's credentials during Boyer v. State of Louisiana Monday.
The only problem? Nobody quite caught what he said.
There's a tree falling in the forest joke in there somewhere.
The official court transcript shows Justice Antonin Scalia confirmed with Louisiana state's assistant district attorney Cara Sigler, that the defendant's lawyer was a graduate of Harvard Law.
"Yes, your honor," Sigler answered.
"Son of a gun," Scalia said.
JUSTICE THOMAS: "Well--he did not--" (Laughter.)
MS. SIGLER: I would refute that, Justice Thomas
Law student Billy Freedland thought Thomas might have said "That's not effective counsel," as if to poke fun at a Harvard degree.
@samsteinhpThomas might have cracked, "Thats not effective counsel." But hard to hear. We'll see what transcript says! Case is Boyer.— Billy Freeland (@policyjunkie) January 14, 2013
The SCOTUSBlog reporter agreed:
Thomas, J. (Yale, JD), speaks: funny at argument—Yale degree could mean lawyer is incompetent, not competent, capital trial counsel.— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) January 14, 2013
The case before the Court has to do with whether a Louisiana man convicted of second-degree murder received a speedy enough trial after the state failed to fund legal counsel for the defendant for five years, even in the face of the prosecution seeking the death penalty.
But if Boyer vs. Louisiana goes down in history, it may be because it was the moment Thomas piped up, even if no one knows exactly what he said.