President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address Tuesday night, and three of the Supreme Court’s conservative justices were notably absent.
Justice Clarence Thomas has said he doesn’t attend the annual event because it’s partisan, while Justice Antonin Scalia thinks it’s a “childish spectacle,” as Time notes.
For his part, Justice Samuel Alito explained in a candid interview with The American Spectator last year that it’s “strange” to go to the State of the Union as a justice and “we sit there like potted plants.” In that interview, Alito said he was done making appearances at the State of the Union address.
The last time Alito attended the State of the Union, in 2010, Alito famously shook his head and said “not true” when President Obama attacked the court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the door for corporations to spend as much as they’d like on indirect political campaign contributions.
Obama said that decision would “open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign companies — to spend without limit in our elections,” prompting the uncomfortable reaction from Alito.
It’s clear why Alito wouldn’t want to sit through that particular State of the Union, where the president of the United States was openly criticising the Supreme Court. But Alito implied in his American Spectator interview that there are other reasons why he stopped going to the addresses. From the Spectator:
“It’s very strange to go as a justice,” he tells me. “We sit there like potted plants. People who watch on television have no idea what’s really happening on the floor. There’s a lot of back and forth between the Democrats and the Republicans. They keep up a running commentary on what the president is saying. Some of it is pretty sharp. None of that is ever picked up because it’s Congress’s home turf. There are boom mikes around, so I think they could probably pick up these comments if they wanted to, but I guess that’s off limits.
“We sit there and the president will say something and members of the president’s party will stand up and start applauding. Members of the other party often will not. But every once in a while the president will say something that is nonpartisan. ‘The United States is a great country.’ ‘We support our men and women in uniform.’ Then everyone’s applauding and standing. We look foolish sitting there, so we stand up and start to applaud. And then we’ll get faked out. The president will get say, ‘This is a great country’ — and everyone will stand up and start to applaud — ‘because we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna enact this legislation.’ It’s a very odd experience.”
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