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Clarence Thomas Speaks From Supreme Court Bench For First Time In A Decade

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 29/02/2016 Cristian Farias
ATHENA IMAGE © Michael Dwyer/Associated Press ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- Justice Clarence Thomas, near the end of a little-noticed criminal law case involving issues of domestic abuse and the potential loss of gun rights, asked his first question from the Supreme Court bench in 10 years.

"Can you give me an area [of law] where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right," Thomas asked of the federal government's lawyer, who was arguing that a federal ban on gun ownership for certain persons who are convicted of domestic violence offenses at the state level should apply if the offense was committed "recklessly."

For what seemed like a lengthy stretch, Thomas engaged in tough questioning of the assistant solicitor general arguing the case, Ilana Eisenstein, who had asked if anyone had more questions for her.

That's when Thomas, in his booming baritone, spoke up.

He wanted to know "how long" the suspension of Second Amendment rights was for persons prohibited under federal law to possess firearms, and he pressed Eisenstein to name any other legal analog where the federal government could permanently curtail constitutional rights following a conviction for an unrelated offense.

"Let's say that a publisher is reckless about the use of children ... in indecent displays," he said, and wondered if the government then could suspend that publisher's right of free press permanently.

The case, Voisine v. United States, didn't arrive at the Supreme Court as a Second Amendment case. The issue was only secondary to the case and no other justice addressed it.

But Thomas, a staunch defender of the right to bear arms, seemed interested in the implications for gun owners who otherwise may be stuck with long-term consequences as the result of a domestic violence incident.

Thomas is known for not speaking during Supreme Court oral arguments -- a practice for which he has offered various rationales over the years.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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