Chief Judge Sentelle’s portrait was unveiled in the federal courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday, reports Jim Morrill in the Charlotte Observer (photo). Justice Clarence Thomas gave the keynote address (photo) at what he called “the hanging of a wonderful man.”
Thomas reminisced about getting to know Judge Sentelle, “a fellow displaced Southerner,” during his tenure on the D.C. Circuit:
In his deep baritone, Thomas said the two shared an interest in NASCAR and country music, even an affinity for dropping verbs.
“It was OK to say, ‘Where you from?’ and ‘Who you people?’” he said. “Judge Sentelle has never forgotten his Southern roots . . . North Carolina’s loss has been the nation’s gain.”
He recalled how the two would “chew the fat” over cigars before President George H.W. Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court in 1991.
“I have a sneaking suspicion that [Sentelle] was involved in the right-wing conspiracy that shipped me off to my current place of employment,” Thomas said to laughs.
Justice Thomas, who has said that as a child he was self-conscious of his own accent, has mentioned Judge Sentelle’s before. Here’s what Thomas said about Sentelle in his memoir, My GrandFather’s Son:
I quickly made friends with Dave Sentelle, a down-to-earth North Carolinian who’d previously been a lawyer, prosecutor, and federal district court judge. Dave hid his astounding intellect behind a thick southern drawl and a bottomless well of colloquialisms. I mentioned to him after we finished listening to a set of oral arguments that one lawyer’s argument had contained an internal inconsistency. “Yep,” Dave said, “he met himself coming back.”
For all they have in common, the two jurists have developed remarkably different approaches to oral argument. Chief Judge Sentelle is an active questioner who often uses oral argument to narrow the issues under consideration. Justice Thomas finds oral argument an exercise in futility and “refuse[s] to participate.”