Justice Clarence Thomas participated in arguments at the Supreme Court via telephone rather than in person on Monday following a hospital stay of nearly a week.
Chief Justice John Roberts said at the beginning of arguments that the 73-year-old Thomas would be “participating remotely this morning” but did not elaborate.
Thomas asked several questions early in arguments in the case, which involved a federal law that applies to railroad workers, at one point making an analogy to when he drives his motor coach. Other justices have also occasionally participated in arguments remotely since the court started its term in the fall.
Thomas missed arguments at the high court on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of last week while he was hospitalized. Roberts said he would participate in the cases argued on those days using briefs the parties filed and the transcript of the arguments.
Thomas was admitted to the hospital March 18 after experiencing “flu-like symptoms” and was treated for an infection with intravenous antibiotics. Thomas did not have COVID-19, the court said. He has been vaccinated and had a booster shot, like the rest of the court. Though the court had said Thomas was expected to be released from the hospital on Monday or Tuesday, he was not discharged until Friday.
The court did not say why he remained in the hospital longer than initially thought or what kind of infection he was treated for.
Thomas, a conservative and appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, has been on the court since 1991.
Earlier this term, Justice Brett Kavanaugh participated remotely from his home after testing positive for COVID-19 and Justice Sonia Sotomayor participated remotely from her office when coronavirus case counts were particularly high. Justice Neil Gorsuch also participated remotely after getting what the court described as a “stomach bug,” but testing negative for COVID-19.
Because of the pandemic the court spent more than a year and a half hearing arguments remotely, with every justice participating by phone. While the justices and lawyers arguing the cases are back in the courtroom, it is still closed to the public.