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Is Clarence Thomas... Funny?

Jay Wexler teaches at the Boston University School of Law and, more importantly, tweets as @SCOTUSHUMOR. He previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and then served as a lawyer in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. Wexler's writing has appeared in Boston magazine, Spy, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency, among other publications. He is the author of Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars, The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions and The Adventures of Ed Tuttle, Associate Justice.

This post originally appeared at Prawfsblog.

WEXLER-OddClausesFor those of us who care deeply about Supreme Court oral argument humor, yesterday was the best day in the history of the world. As has been widely reported, Clarence Thomas spoke for the first time in seven years, telling a joke at the expense of Yale Law School. The key point here is that, although the joke was not itself captured on the official transcript, the "[laughter]" was. For the record, the official laugh line was:

JUSTICE THOMAS: "Well--he did not--"


Just to state the obvious here, Justice Thomas now has a 100% laughter to comment ratio at oral arguments over the past 7 years. In terms of raw statistics, then, this makes him funnier than Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, and Weird Al Yankovic combined.   

It wasn't just Thomas getting laughs, though. In the first argument of the day, there were six laughlines, three by Justice Scalia alone. Six for a single argument is almost unheard of. I wasn't there, of course, but it sounds like the morning was more "Night Court" than "Supreme Court." Perhaps it was this night-club atmosphere that inspired Justice Thomas to tell his joke. Indeed, there were four laughs in the second argument--the audience even laughed once at something Justice Alito said, which is about as rare as someone laughing at an episode of "Don't Trust the B--in Apt. 23."

As the Court heads back to business this morning, one wonders whether some of the other justices might feel moved to follow Justice Thomas and break type. I predict that Justice Breyer shows up with one of those Steve Martin arrow through the head things on his giant dome, and that Justice Kagan, well known for her ventriloquism prowess,** poses her questions through a fancy dressed mouse hand puppet.

**Justice Kagan is not in fact known for her ventriloquism prowess

Read Jay Wexler's post about his lunch with Clarence Thomas.