“弁護士, あなたはテネシーがミシシッピから水を汲み上げていることに不満を言っているようです, しかし、あなたはテネシーが国境を越えてミシシッピ川に入らないことを認めます, isn’t that correct?” Thomas asked a lawyer from Mississippi after he finished his opening statement in a water dispute.
The question and its timing were notable because the court is adopting a new hybrid argument format. Before the pandemic, justices interrupted counsel with a barrage of rapid-fire questions in no particular order. Thomas made clear his distaste for that system and almost never spoke.
But when the court was forced to work remotely last year it began asking questions in descending order of seniority, a system Thomas participated in the same as all his fellow justices.
The new system starts with an extended period of rapid-fire questioning followed by a more orderly opportunity for individual questioning by each justice at the end. But Thomas didn’t wait for the structured time and instead jumped right into the questioning in a way he almost never did before the pandemic.
The first case of the Supreme Court term on Monday is a dispute over ground water between Tennessee and Mississippi. Mississippi alleges that Tennessee is essentially stealing ground water by pumping too much from a shared aquifer.
Thomas peppered the Mississippi lawyer with several more tough questions after his first one.
“Let’s say it was a lake and Tennessee was pumping water on its side of the lake. Couldn’t you argue that technically it was drawing water from Mississippi,” under Mississippi’s logic, Thomas asked that state’s lawyer. “Couldn’t Tennessee, アーカンソー, Missouri make the same argument that whenever you pump you’re causing similar problems for them?”
Former Thomas clerk and Judicial Crisis Network President Carrie Severino said that Thomas’ assertive nature in this first argument of the court’s 2021-2022 term is reflective of the new 6-3 conservative majority.
“It is Justice Thomas’s moment as the intellectual leader of the Court and thus fitting to hear him ask the first question of the new term,” Severino said.