Telephonic Oral Arguments Break Justice Thomas’ “over-a-year long silence”

Due to telephonic oral arguments, Supreme Court Justices this last week took turns asking questions of advocates for the first time in history, as opposed to unstructured “free for all” as has been the long-standing tradition. The result? A more inclusive culture on the bench that resulted in Justice Thomas, a senior but yet reticent Justice, asking a question the first time this new procedure was implemented.

Interestingly, when this new system was announced, Supreme Court pundits predicted that Justice Thomas, who is the second most senior Justice and would therefore get to go second, would pass, as he usually does. In fact, Justice Thomas is known to go years without asking a question.

The new method was not expected to result in a difference in anyone’s behavior. But it did.

Justice Thomas took advantage of his turn and asked questions during oral argument, breaking his over-a-year long silence.

What can we learn from this? That for meetings to be truly inclusive, where all people present can feel comfortable participating, “free for all” just does not work. Not everyone has the same level of comfort in expressing themselves. If even powerful people must be individually invited to speak, shouldn’t we as leaders do the same in our day-to-day meetings?