What We Know About Judge Clarence Thomas’ Hospitalization

WASHINGTON (AP) — Judge Clarence Thomas remains hospitalized in Washington after being diagnosed with an infection, but he does not have COVID-19, the Supreme Court said Monday.

The Supreme Court announced Sunday evening that the 73-year-old judge had entered the hospital Friday after experiencing “flu-like symptoms” and undergoing testing. The court said Thomas had been diagnosed with an infection and was being treated with intravenous antibiotics. The court said at the time that “his symptoms are decreasing”, but it didn’t say that Thomas had tested negative for the virus.

During Monday’s court debates, Thomas’ seat to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts was empty and Roberts noted Thomas’s absence without explaining why. He said Thomas would participate in the cases on the basis of written documents and recordings of the arguments in court. Thomas, who has been on the court since 1991, is currently the longest serving judge.

News about Thomas’ hospitalization came just before the Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings Monday on the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has appointed President Joe Biden to replace outgoing Judge Stephen Breyer. If confirmed, she would be the first black woman on the field, but her confirmation would not change the ideological balance on the field. Thomas is the court’s second-ever black judge and one of six conservatives now serving on the court.

Some questions and answers about Thomas’ hospitalization:

IF IT’S NOT COVID-19, WHAT’S WRONG?

The court gave no additional information about the infection that landed Thomas in the hospital, other than saying that he is responding to intravenous antibiotics. There was no indication as to the severity of the infection or its cause, but the court said Sunday evening he was expected to be out in a day or two.

Thomas has no known health problems, but judges make their own decisions about what health information to release and when. Court has said all nine judges have received the COVID-19 vaccine and booster injection

The court occasionally releases health and other information about various judges. The website contains press releases dating back to the end of 2002, including publications on health issues from other judges. Sunday’s news turned out to be the first time the court had provided health information about Thomas in that way.

IS IT UNEXPECTED THAT THE PUBLIC DID NOT KNOW IMMEDIATELY THAT THOMAS WAS HOSPITALIZED?

New. The court did not explain why it waited two days to announce that the judge was in hospital, but it is not always clear when the judges will receive medical treatment.

For example, the late Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg was quite candid about her many health issues over the years, including several bouts with cancer. But in 2020, she waited more than four months to reveal her cancer had returned and that she was undergoing chemotherapy.

That same year, Chief Justice John Roberts spent a night in a hospital after falling and injuring his forehead and stitches required. The injury was not revealed until a month later, and only because The Washington Post learned of it.

Now-retired Judge Anthony Kennedy has been a mother in the same way. In 2005, he said nothing in public when he had a stent inserted to keep an artery open after mild chest pain. The court did not disclose the procedure until Kennedy returned to the hospital to have the stent replaced 10 months later.

IS IT THE FIRST TIME A JUSTICE HAS MISSED ARGUMENTS BUT STILL VOTE ON A CASE?

No, and there are other recent examples. In early 2019, when Ginsburg was recovering from cancer surgery, she lacked arguments but participated in decisions based on the memoranda and transcripts of the arguments. She ended up missing six days when the court heard a total of 11 arguments and returned to the courtroom for arguments the following month

In 2004 and 2005, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist suffered from thyroid cancer and went off the bench for 44 fights for five months. Rehnquist voted in most cases for which he did not attend the pleadings.

CAN THOMAS STILL PARTICIPATE IN HOSPITAL ARGUMENTS?

Theoretically yes. Other judges have taken part in arguments remotely since the court began his term in the fall, and some lawyers have done so. Judge Brett Kavanaugh participated remotely from his home after testing positive for COVID-19 and Justice Sonia Sotomayor participated remotely from her office when the number of coronavirus cases was particularly high† Judge Neil Gorsuch also participated remotely after he contracted what the court described as a “stomach illness” but tested negative for COVID-19.

For whatever reason, Thomas doesn’t. If he had, he wouldn’t have been the first judge to take part in quarrels from a hospital. Ginsburg participated remotely from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 2020 while in hospital with an infection caused by a gallstone† At the time, all the judges participated remotely and the court heard arguments over the phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The judges returned to personal arguments in October after more than a year and a half of telephone arguments. However, the courtroom is still closed to the public due to the pandemic.

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