Justice Clarence Thomas Joins Arguments From Afar After Being Released From Hospital

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
March 28, 2022 Updated: March 28, 2022

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas joined oral arguments in two cases conducted in front of the court on March 28, but did not attend in person.

“Justice Thomas is participating remotely this morning,” Chief Justice John Roberts, 67, a George W. Bush appointee, announced as the court opened business at 10 a.m.

Thomas, 73, missed all the arguments last week while in the hospital for what the court described as an infection that was not related to COVID-19. The justice was discharged from the facility, Sibley Memorial Hospital, on March 25—three days after he was expected to be released.

Following his release, Thomas joined a dissent in a ruling that allows the U.S. Navy to consider the COVID-19 vaccination status of sailors when weighing whether to deploy them.

A Supreme Court spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on why Thomas wasn’t at the court on Monday.

Justices were hearing arguments in two cases: Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon and LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Company.

In the former, Thomas spent time questioning David Frederick, an attorney representing Bradley Ledure, a conductor who sued the railroad for negligence after slipping on stairs at a rail yard in Illinois. In the latter, Thomas tried to drill down on who is defined as a transportation worker for purposes of exemption from the Federal Arbitration Act. Southwest ramp worker Latrice Saxon is attempting to convince the court she is.

Thomas did not shed any light on his condition. His wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, has not responded to requests for comment.

Thomas was appointed to the court by former President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and is its longest-serving member.

He’s poised to become its oldest later this year when Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, steps down.

Breyer, a Clinton appointee, recently announced his retirement. President Joe Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace the Clinton appointee.

A vote on Jackson was delayed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday due to concerns from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who said the White House has still not provided thousands of records from Jackson’s time on the bench.

Thomas is expected to participate in the consideration and decision in all of the arguments he missed, according to Roberts and the court.

Thomas was not the first justice to attend arguments remotely during this term, which began in the fall of 2021.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 57, a Trump appointee, participated from afar after testing positive for COVID-19 in October of last year. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 67, an Obama appointee, spent weeks attending arguments remotely in January as COVID-19 cases in the country spiked, driven by the Omicron virus variant. And Justice Neil Gorsuch, 54, a Trump appointee, spent several days participating remotely because of a “stomach bug,” according to the court.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.