Skipping State of the Union is a Supreme Court tradition regardless of who's president

The State of the Union address is one of the most important speeches a President can give. But what is the importance behind such a moment. Veuer's Nick Cardona (@nickcardona93) has that story.

WASHINGTON - Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be the most notable member of the high court to skip President Trump's first State of the Union address Tuesday night, but she likely won't be the only one.

If history is a guide, Ginsburg — who attended all of President Barack Obama's annual speeches — will be joined in absentia at least by conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Boycotting the presidential address, it seems, isn't based on politics. Or is it?

Ginsburg, 84, showed her disdain for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign — no doubt, when she thought he had little chance of winning. She called him a "faker" who "really has an ego" in media interviews. Trump, never one to take an insult without responding, tweeted that Ginsburg's "mind is shot" and urged her to resign.

The court's eldest justice attended Trump's inauguration on the west front of the Capitol a year ago but skipped his speech to Congress a month later. This year, at least, she has an excuse — she is delivering two speeches in Rhode Island Tuesday.

Conservatives Thomas and Alito have been no-shows for years — in Alito's case, since he was caught by TV cameras during Obama's 2010 remarks shaking his head and mouthing the words "not true" when the president criticized the high court's ruling upholding the right of corporations to spend unlimited amounts in political campaigns.

At least five justices usually show up for the speech, but that doesn't mean they like being there. Chief Justice John Roberts — who has been accompanied in recent years by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — has likened the affair to a "political pep rally" in which the justices sit like potted plants while members of Congress hoot and holler behind them.

Given that Trump nominated him to the ninth seat on the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch is considered likely to attend as well. That would be a change from his predecessor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who considered the State of the Union address to be a "childish spectacle" and skipped it the last two decades of his tenure.

If Gorsuch or any of the other justices decided to do something else Tuesday night, they would be in good company, from a historical perspective. It's not uncommon for justices to skip the event. William Rehnquist often did not attend toward the end of his tenure as chief justice; former Justice John Paul Stevens never showed up. 

For all the applause and standing ovations that greet the president — at least from his side of the political aisle — it hasn't stopped Ginsburg from dozing off during past speeches. In 2013 and 2015, she was seen with her head drooping toward her lap.

After the second such spectacle, Ginsburg explained why she had trouble staying awake. The justices had dined beforehand, a meal which included some excellent California wine supplied by Kennedy, the court's lone Californian.

"I wasn't 100% sober," she said.

© 2018 USATODAY.COM


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