Editorial: Where were Scalia, Thomas and Alito?
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts might have felt like biting his lip or sitting on his hands at times, but he set a fine example for his fellow justices by attending President Obama’s State of the Union address. His presence, as a Republican appointee whose positions are often at odds with those of the president, was a sorely needed symbol of unity in a nation fractured by political division.
Tuesday night’s attendance by Supreme Court justices was relatively high by historic standards. There have been years, according to a study by professors Todd Peppers of Roanoke College and Michael Giles of Emory University, when only a few justices attended the address and one year, 2000, when not one showed up.
Six of the justices, Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, took their reserved seats across from the president for Tuesday’s address. Justice Antonin Scalia, who has called the address “a juvenile spectacle” and “a silly affair” skipped the speech, as did Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Their absence is regrettable for the nation, and most of all for the court.
Despite the public scolding Obama gave the court in 2010 over the Citizens United decision that changed campaign funding by giving corporations free speech rights that should be reserved for people, the chief justice attends the addresses. His attendance helps the public to see the court as an impartial body, rather than a partisan one, but his presence does not cancel out the absences of his fellow conservatives.
Especially now, with respect for the hyper-partisan Congress at a record low and government often in paralysis, all signs of national unity are useful and appreciated.
Political theater though they are, State of the Union addresses can serve as a rare opportunity to show that members of all three branches of government share the same goal: to make the United States the fairest and best that it can possibly be. We realize that some justices prefer to forgo what can be an almost aerobic exercise that consists of alternately standing, clapping and sitting.
But for the good of the court and the country, all who are physically capable should attend.