Justice Clarence Thomas breaks silence during Supreme Court’s first teleconference hearing
Justice Clarence Thomas, typically a silent presence on the Supreme Court bench, fired off a series of questions Monday when the court took the unprecedented step of holding oral arguments by conference call due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The conservative justice usually prefers to let his written decisions and sometimes fiery dissents speak for him. But in a day of firsts, Thomas’s inquiries — which came amid a trademark dispute over the travel service Booking.com — snapped his silence for the first time this term.
The case concerned whether Booking.com could trademark its name, or if the company’s moniker was too generic to enjoy the legal protections.
“Could Booking acquire an 800 number that’s a vanity number? 1-800-booking, for example, that is similar to 1-800-plumbing, which is a registered mark,” Thomas said, asking a Justice Department lawyer to distinguish the case from other similar examples.
Thomas posed a number of additional questions to Erica Ross, assistant to the solicitor general, as well as Lisa Blatt, who argued the case on behalf of Booking.com.
Thomas snapped a three-year silence when he spoke during arguments last year. Previously, the justice had gone a decade without asking a single question during arguments.
The famously tech-averse Supreme Court broke with tradition in other ways on Monday. It was the first time the justices held oral arguments by conference call, and the first time arguments were broadcast to the general public in real time.
The court’s embrace of teleconferencing represents a dramatic step for a court that has traditionally been wary of adopting new technologies and comes after the court postponed arguments in March and April in order to abide by social distancing policies.
The court will hold nine more arguments by telephone conference this month, including a landmark May 12 case involving President Trump’s financial records.
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