Clarence Thomas returns after unexplained absence as Supreme Court hears Jan. 6 case


WASHINGTON − Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was back on the bench Tuesday, a day after he missed oral arguments without explanation.

Thomas asked the first question in Tuesday's oral arguments into whether prosecutors can charge hundreds of Jan. 6 defendants with obstruction for interrupting Congress as it certified President Joe Biden’s victory.

The justices were asked to interpret an obstruction law Congress approved after the Enron scandal in 2002. One of the defendants contends that law aimed to punish the destruction of documents. But prosecutors called it a catchall that covers the obstruction of official meetings.

The disputed language prohibits anyone from “corruptly” destroying or concealing a government record, or who “otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so.”

"How do we determine what these two provisions have in common?" Thomas asked. "Do we look after the `otherwise' or before and why?"

On Monday, Thomas was absent when the court heard cases involving federal antibribery law and whether police can be sued if they had probable cause for some, but not all, charges that led to an arrest.

Without giving a reason for his absence, Chief Justice John Roberts said Thomas would participate in the two cases argued Monday by using transcripts of the arguments and the written briefs.

Thomas, 75, is the court's oldest member and the most senior associate justice.

Contributing: Bart Jansen.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Justice Clarence Thomas returns to court after unexplained absence