Uproar surrounding a moment in last year’s State of the Union address raised the question: Should Supreme Court justices attend the presidents’ State of the Union speeches? The justices typically sit expressionless in the front row while members of Congress around them stand and cheer at different points in the speech. But after last January’s controversial Citizens United decision allowed corporations to spend money in support of political candidates, Obama included a criticism of the high court in his address. Among the justices, Justice Samuel Alito mouthed “Not true,” and shook his head in seeming disapproval. Many observers cried foul—some at Obama’s “rude” criticism of the Supreme Court, others at Alito’s “inappropriate” response.
This year, Alito is reportedly spending the week in Honolulu with law students.
Chief Justice John Roberts last March complained to University of Alabama students about the awkwardness of attending the State of the Union. "The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court—according the requirements of protocol—has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling," Roberts said.
On the other hand, Justice Stephen Breyer said on Fox News Sunday in December that he’s gone every year to the president’s speech. “I think it’s very, very, very important—very important—for us to show up at that State of the Union, because people today, as you know, are more and more visual,” he said. “And what they see in front of them in that State of the Union is the federal government, every part—the president, the Congress, the cabinet, the military. And I would like them to see the judges, too, because federal judges are also part of that government. And I want to be there.”
This year six justices are expected at tonight’s speech—the same number as last year—including Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
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