A minority of the Supreme Court is expected to attend President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address Tuesday night, sitting together in their judicial robes near the front of the chamber and attempting to abstain from the partisan nature of the event.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s only Supreme Court nominee so far, is scheduled to make his debut Tuesday night. Conservatives consider his 2017 confirmation to be one of the President’s biggest triumphs during a tumultuous first year.
Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan are also scheduled to attend, the court’s public information officer said.
Over the years, some combination of justices have always crossed the street to attend the speech, but others have refrained either due to scheduling conflicts or the feeling that the event has devolved into what the late Justice Antonin Scalia referred to as a “childish spectacle.”
Last spring at a speaking event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Roberts reiterated something he has said before: sometimes he’s wished he didn’t go. He was indirectly referring to a 2010 speech by President Barack Obama that criticized the court for a ruling on campaign finance.
Roberts told the audience that while it is appropriate for anybody to criticize the court, it can be uncomfortable when it happens at the State of the Union. The justices, in order to preserve impartiality, refrain from any kind of applause or reaction to most of the speech.
“On occasion in the past, there has been particular references to the court, and that presents a particular challenge. You don’t want to be in the position where you just have to sit there idly by while your work is being criticized” Roberts said last spring.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who famously clashed with Trump in 2016, calling him a “faker – will be in Rhode Island attending two different events, one of which was scheduled back in August. Ginsburg, who attended all of Obama’s speeches, was also absent last year when Trump made his first address to Congress just after his inauguration.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are not expected to be in attendance. Alito hasn’t gone to the event since Obama’s 2010 criticism.
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Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Anthony Kennedy had long-standing plans for travel, the court said.
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