Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas hasn't asked a question in a decade

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Ten years ago Monday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas asked a question from the bench.

He hasn't done it since.

The streak is a record -- no other justice in modern history has gone more than a term without asking a question during oral arguments. It's also a source of curiosity and angst in the legal community.

It will also likely continue for some time. Thomas has shown no sign of changing his ways, issuing his opinions in written form and making little more than small talk with other justices when the court is hearing arguments -- and, once, three years ago, cracking an apparent joke.

The last time Thomas asked a question was Feb. 22, 2006, during arguments on a death penalty case.

RELATED: Clarence Thomas through the years:

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas hasn't asked a question in a decade
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left and his wife Virginia Thomas, right, leave the the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington after attending funeral services of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left and his wife Virginia Thomas, right, leave the the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington after attending funeral services of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., left, and from second from left, Ginny Thomas, next to her husband, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Stephen Breyer, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, attend a private ceremony in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, where late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia lies in repose. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2010 file photo, the Supreme Court justices pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington. Seated, from left are, Justice Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Standing, from left are, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito Jr., and Elena Kagan. On Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, the U.S. Marshals Service confirmed that Scalia has died at the age of 79. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, shake hands with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as they leave the church after the Red Mass at St. Mathews Cathedral in Washington on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The Supreme Court's new term starts Monday, Oct. 5. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
U.S. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas sits for a conversation at Yale University, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, in New Haven, Conn. Thomas graduated from Yale Law School in 1974. Three U.S. Supreme Court justices who attended Yale Law School shared the stage as they are honored at the school's alumni weekend. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
University of Texas at Tyler President Rod Mabry (left) escorts Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Clarence Thomas to the stage for the first lecture in this years UT Tyler distinguished lecture series, on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, in Tyler, Texas. (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)
Supreme Court associate justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, left and Clarence Thomas arrive at the ceremonial swearing-in for President Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gestures while taking part in a panel discussion at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, center, speaks with students from the Jesuit Honor Society after receiving an honorary degree at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas laughs while talking with other guests at The Federalist Society's 2011 Annual Dinner in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivers the commencement address to graduates of the University of Nebraska's law school in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, May 7, 2011. Thomas, the first sitting Supreme Court justice to participate in the law school's commencement, said that people should focus more on living honorably and less on superficial illusions of success. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court gather for a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. Seated from left to right are: Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts. Standing, from left are: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
This artist rendering shows the newest Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, right, during a hearing at the court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 4, 2010. Seated, from left are, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justices John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Kagan. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2010 file photo, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is seen during the group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington. Lillian McEwen, who dated Thomas in the 1980s, has signed with TitleTown Publishing for her book titled, "D.C. Unmasked and Undressed," TitleTown announced Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The book is scheduled for release in February. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas makes a few remarks prior to giving the oath of office to Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas R. Lee for his confirmation at the Matheson Courthouse, Supreme Court chamber in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Francisco Kjolseth , Pool)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, center, along with his wife Virginia laugh before swearing in Thomas R. Lee as the new Utah Supreme Court Justice at the Matheson Courthouse, Supreme Court chamber in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Francisco Kjolseth , Pool)
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2010, before the House Financial Services and General Government subcommittee hearing on the Supreme Courts fiscal 2011 budget requests. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas sits with other Supreme Court judges for a new group photograph, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, at the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 23, 2009, before the House Financial Services and General Government subcommittee hearing on the court's Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, center, is greeted by Jack Slane as Thomas enters High Point University to give the 2008 commencement speech Saturday, May 3, 2008 in High Point, N.C. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)
United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivers a speech at Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University, in Lexington, Va. on Monday, March 16, 2009. A statue of Robert E. Lee, lying on his bunk during a Civil War campaign is behind Thomas. (AP Photo/Don Petersen)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gives the commencement speech to the 2008 graduation class of High Point University Saturday, May 3, 2008 in High Point, N.C. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas addresses The Forum Club of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla. Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007 as he talks about his life and his book. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas addresses the Federalist Society in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007, where he spoke about his new book and took questions from the audience. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
** FILE **Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Clarence Thomas speaks at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., in this Sept. 10, 2007, file photo. Breaking his 16-year public silence on his bitter confirmation hearings, Thomas says Anita Hill was a mediocre employee, who was used by political opponents to make claims she had been sexually harassed. Thomas writes about Hill, his former employee in two government agencies, in his autobiography, "My Grandfather's Son", which goes on sale Monday, Oct. 1, 2007. (AP Photo/Randy Snyder, File)
Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Clarence Thomas, right, laughs with West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin during a presentation on Monday, Sept. 10, 2007, at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. Despite taking its name from a former justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, this was the first time Marshall University has played host to one. (AP Photo/Randy Snyder)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, left, accompanied by fellow Justice Anthony Kennedy, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 8, 2007, before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing regarding the Supreme Court's fiscal 2008 budget. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, right, speaks with professor Sarah Howard Jenkins, left, at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, before Thomas spoke to a group at the law school Friday, Jan. 26, 2007, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Mike Wintroath)
** FILE ** With the addition of the Supreme Court's newest member, Justice Samuel Alito Jr., top row at right, the high court sits for a new group photograph in this March 3, 2006 file photo, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington. Seated in the front row, from left to right are: Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and Associate Justice David Souter. Standing, from left to right, in the top row, are: Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. Alito who took his seat on the court Feb. 21, replacing Sandra Day O'Connor, who made history in 1981 as the first woman to join the Supreme Court. Justice Stevens, nominated by President Gerald Ford, is now the longest serving member of the current court; he took his seat in December 1975. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
** FILE** Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is photographed at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday, March 3, 2006. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Supreme Court Juctices Antonin Scalia, left, Justice David Souter, center, and Justice Clarence Thomas, right, attend Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's swearing-in ceremony, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006, in the East Room at the White House. Alito was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate on a 58-42 vote. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas laughs as he leaves St. Matthew's Cathedral after attending the 52th annual Red Mass, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005 in Washington. The Red Mass is held on the Sunday prior to the opening of the Supreme Court's session. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Leah Sears, right, shares a laugh with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, after she was sworn in as the first woman chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Tuesday, June 28, 2005, in the House Chambers at the Capitol in Atlanta. Sears was the first woman and the youngest person ever to serve on the state Supreme Court when she was appointed in 1992 by then-Gov. Zell Miller. The installation of Sears as chief justice comes nearly a year after she was re-elected to the court following a campaign in which she was targeted by conservatives as being too liberal. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, AUG. 28 -- FILE ** Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 12, 1991, in Washington. Pointed questioning of nominees--and their frequent dodging and weaving in response--is a relatively new phenomenon in the confirmation of Supreme Court justices. Harlan Fisk Stone in 1925 became the first nominee to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And it wasn't until the mid-1950s that thenotion of a nominee facing a line of questioners became more typical. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, Files)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas listens as President Bush speaks at the swearing-in ceremony of new United Nations ambassador and former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building Thursday, July 1, 2004, in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
**FILE** Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pauses during his speech to members of the Savannah, Ga., Bar in this May 11, 2001 photo. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)
President Bush, left, shakes the hand of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after the swearing-in ceremony of new United Nations ambassador and former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building Thursday, July 1, 2004, in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Unites States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, right, talks with Eva Jordan of Boston, Mass., prior to the New England School of Law dinner, Thursday, Nov. 21, 1996, where Thomas gave the keynote address. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gestures before delivering a lecture, "Education: The Second Door to Freedom," at his alma mater, College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., Feb. 3, 1991. (AP Photo/Paula A. Scully)
United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas delivers his speech Friday, Sept. 24, 1999, at the Dwight D. Opperman Lecture in Constitutional Law at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.(AP Photo/Rodney White)
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas denounces and denies sexual harassment allegations against him before the Senate Judiciary Commitee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Friday night, Oct. 11, 1991. (AP Photo/John Duricka)
Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas looks out the window of a car as he leaves his Alexandria, Virginia home, Oct. 9, 1991. Thomas was on his way to meet with President Bush, who reaffirmed his "total confidence" in Thomas despite allegations of sexual harassment. Thomas' chief Senate supporter, Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), is driving the car. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
Clarence Thomas is seen in a high school year book photo, circa 1959. (AP Photo)
Clarence Thomas is seen in a high school year book photo, circa 1959. (AP Photo)
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No one knows quite why Thomas chooses to abstain as he does. Some have pointed to his prior remarks about growing up self-conscious about his rural Georgia accent. But the more likely explanation is that Thomas believes he learns more if he keeps quiet.

"I just think that it's more in my nature to listen rather than to ask a bunch of questions," he told high school students in 2000. "And they get asked anyway."

Thomas has also said he is uncomfortable competing with the court's louder voices -- which, until his death this month, included Justice Antonin Scalia.

Taking part in oral arguments is just one piece of the high court's deliberative process. Lawyers on both sides make most of their arguments in briefs submitted beforehand. Justices use oral arguments to analyze those positions and to debate indirectly with their colleagues.

Preferring silence is not unprecedented, scholars say: Justice William Brennan, for example, was famously reticent during his late career.

Stephen Wasby, political science professor emeritus at the University of Albany, said Thomas' approach hurts the process.

"He's not giving the lawyers an opportunity to address his concerns. And I think he should," Wasby said. "The others do. He should. That's a legitimate concern."

But scholars point out that the court's increased volubility is more a recent development. Historically, they say, the court didn't ask many questions during oral arguments.

That makes Thomas somewhat of a throwback. He's better known for the power of his written opinions, which reflect his conservative beliefs and originalist interpretation of the Constitution and which scholars say are proving to have lasting impact on American law. His ideas about individual gun rights under the Second Amendment, for instance, have been influential.

Ralph Rossum, a law professor at Claremont University who wrote a book about Thomas' impact on constitutional law, said it wouldn't necessarily make Thomas more effective if he suddenly started to speak up.

"Obviously, Thomas knows he doesn't ask questions and there's a lot of criticism that he doesn't," Rossum said. "But he's confident enough in his own skin not to care. He's going to do it his way."

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