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Should Justices Attend Obama’s State of the Union Address?

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by Publius
Posted February 08, 2013, 11:00 AM

According to CNN:

One member of the esteemed group feels like a "proverbial potted plant," while another resents sitting there "looking stupid." Their chief ponders the pageantry and politics of it all and wonders why they bother to go.

For members of the Supreme Court, enduring the State of the Union address is a civic exercise in poker-faced discretion. As recent history has shown, that is not always easy.

Tuesday's speech in the House chamber by President Barack Obama will be watched closely not only for what is said about his second-term agenda, but also for who will be there in person to hear it.

Court members are not required by law to be there, but custom has dictated their appearance in their robes, mostly for show.

They are low-key part of the pageantry and are compelled to sit politely and stoically amid the often high-spirited partisan rhetoric and response of the event.

There is no word yet from the high court about who appear. Invitations are sent to each chamber and the justices have individual discretion whether to attend. Usually one or more do.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy have been regulars.

Government sources say Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the bench in 2009, is expected to be there. So, too, Justice Elena Kagan. Obama nominated both.

The political embers were stoked three years ago when Obama went after high court conservatives during the speech.

He singled out the majority ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, issued a week earlier, which removed legal barriers preventing corporations and unions from spending unlimited sums on federal elections.

"With all due deference to the separation of powers," Obama said, "the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections."

Sitting just feet away in the audience, Samuel Alito shook his head and mouthed words interpreted as "not true," referring to the line about "foreign corporations," court sources later confirmed.

Alito's five fellow justices with him that night showed no emotion.

He had been a regular, but months after the incident, he told an audience in New York that he felt "like the proverbial potted plant" and would not be attending in the near future.

Chief Justice John Roberts labeled the political atmosphere at the 2010 address "very troubling" and said partisan rhetoric and gestures aimed at the court left him questioning whether his colleagues should attend.

"It does cause me to think whether or not it makes sense for us to be there" Roberts said weeks after the controversy. "To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there."

 

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