Should the Supreme Court Justices Avoid the SOTU Address?

As I’m sure you recall, at last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama shocked the legal community–and certain sectors of the public, more generally–when he slammed the Supreme Court for its recent ruling on Citizens United. Alito mouthed the words “not true” in response.

As a result, some news reports are suggesting that certain justices may not show up to this year’s SOTU. Alito, for instance, has said that he won’t attend the SOTU. But what about Chief Justice Roberts, who compared the SOTU to a “political pep rally” last March? Here’s the WSJ law blog:

If Roberts and other justices decide not to attend the address next Tuesday, it sends a loud message “that they were offended by Obama’s attack,” said Lucas A. Powe Jr., a Supreme Court historian who teaches at the University of Texas School of Law.

Supreme Court Justices should not be in the business of setting up the stage props — that’s Rob Long’s job. By showing up again, the Justices risk being used as an accessory to President Obama’s latest heated claim, and even the subject of more crude political efforts to pressure our independent judiciary. Maybe Obama won’t even wait until after they have decided a case. Why not harangue the Justices before Obamacare arrives on their docket?

No matter what the Justices do — go or don’t go to the State of the Union — observers will take it as a statement on the current administration.  So the simplest thing to do is stay home. They can avoid a long, boring speech and spend more time reading and writing.  I wouldn’t go as far as some have, and say that all Justices should stay away because they should not show signs of support for the government.  The judges can be, and are, patriots.  But they should just be consistent about it, no matter who happens to be President, so they do not show any partiality to a particular political party or individual person in office.