There was not a full complement of Supreme Court justices in attendance for President Biden’s second State of the Union speech, with four jurists on the high court opting to sit the speech out.
Chief Justice John Roberts was in attendance, along with Justices Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Justices Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch skipped Tuesday evening’s national address.
The lack of attendance does not necessarily reflect any political message, as justices often opt out of State of the Union speeches — in 2002, under President George W. Bush, seven of the nine justices stayed home.
Ketanji Brown Jackson is attending her first State of the Union Address as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court tonight. pic.twitter.com/lCaH8ALivH
— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) February 8, 2023
Justice Clarence Thomas last attended a State of the Union in 2006, and he told the New York Times in a 2010 interview that the speeches had become too “partisan” for him.
“I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” Thomas said, noting that “there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV, the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”
“One of the consequences, is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go,” he added.
That being an apparent reference to Justice Alito mouthing the words “not true” during President Obama’s 2010 speech when the former president denounced the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling on campaign finance.
Interestingly, Alito has not attended a State of the Union address since 2010.
Biden greeted Roberts and the other four justices as he entered the House chamber and he would later take a shot at the Supreme Court in his speech, erroneously claiming the court “took away” the right to have an abortion — the overturn of Roe v. Wade did not ban abortions, it sent the matter back to the states.
“Congress must restore the right the Supreme Court took away last year and protect Roe v. Wade,” @POTUS says.
“But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans. Make no mistake about it. If Congress passes a national ban, I will veto it.” @DailyCaller pic.twitter.com/V75vHWyPWm
— Sarah Weaver (@SarahHopeWeaver) February 8, 2023
Retired Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy were on hand for Biden’s speech, this marking the first time a retired justice has attended a State of the Union address in 26 years, according to The Hill, which reported that the last time a former justice attended was when Byron White was present for former President Clinton’s address in 1997.
Somewhat unusual, Biden hung around long after his speech was over Tuesday evening, roaming the chamber aimlessly and glad-handing those who stuck around, including the former justices:
Here's President Biden with retired Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy after #SOTU #sotu2023. pic.twitter.com/yZKViTrD9b
— Jeremy Art (@cspanJeremy) February 8, 2023
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