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For years, critics alleged that Justice Clarence Thomas was hiding behind his conservative compatriot, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, as a way of disguising a lack of intellectual heft or qualifications to be on the bench. Exhibit A has been the fact that it’s been a decade since Thomas asked a question during oral arguments. But today, in a courtroom still draped in black to honor Scalia, Thomas came out of that shadow to prove those critics wrong.
Thomas didn’t just ask one question—he asked many questions this morning and, in doing so, completely changed the direction of the oral arguments. In Voisine v. US, a somewhat obscure criminal case involving domestic violence and gun rights, the court is considering a case that could make it easier for people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses to keep their gun rights.
In 1996, Congress passed the Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act, which instituted a lifetime ban on gun possession for people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses. During most of the oral arguments this morning, lawyers and justices alike focused on the minutia of the definition of “battery,” as Congress might have intended it under the law. Then Thomas stepped in and raised a much larger constitutional question that might once have been asked by Scalia.
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Clarence Thomas Just Did Something He Hasn’t Done in a Decade