A burning cross is indeed highly symbolic, Justice Thomas said, but only of something that deserves no constitutional protection: the "reign of terror" visited on black communities by the Ku Klux Klan for nearly 100 years before Virginia passed the law, which the Virginia Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a year ago. Finally, an issue that got Clarence Thomas animated. The US Supreme Court heard arguments over a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/12/politics/12SCOT.html">Virginia Supreme Court decision to overturn a conviction of Ku Klux Klan members for burning a cross</a>, citing First Amendment protection. The usually placid Thomas, whose unusual vow of silence during arguments annoyed many observers, went into a livid oratory denouncing the idea that cross burnings can be protected under the constitution. While the court spectators were shocked to hear Thomas deliver a rapturous baritone monologue on the symbolism of the burning cross, the other justices listened intently and were impressed by Thomas' opinions. So impressed, many of the same justices who considered that the ruling was unconstitutional moments before began to change their opinions. 'A burning torch and a burning cross - what's the difference?' asks Rodney A. Smolla, the lawyer for the convicted men. Justice Kennedy shot back, '100 years of history.' Even Justice Scalia fell in line and noted blacks would rather see a rifle-toting man in their front yard rather than a burning cross. <small>(The victims in this case did move out of their Virginia Beach home after the incident.) </small> So, a court which <a href="http://slate.msn.com/?id=2075301">previously made burning flags and swastikas protected speech</a> is now set to put burning crosses into its own, unprotected category. But now only cross burnings are considered, the nation is more aware of terrorism in all its forms, and Justice Thomas found his singing voice. Should all that make a difference? Or does history really count for something when it comes to race? I predict this will be yet another charged issue and a heated debate.