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Supreme Court Majority To Attend State Of Union

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Chief Justice John Roberts will lead a contingent of six Supreme Court justices at the State of the Union address Tuesday night. That word from the Supreme Court, ending speculation that he would skip the event.

Roberts has attended every State of the Union since his appointment in 2005. But after last year’s speech, he suggested he might not in the future.

In the 2010 State of the Union speech, President Obama criticized a decision by the conservative Court majority that unleashed corporate and union spending in elections.

In response, Justice Samuel Alito shook his head and mouthed the words, “not true.”

The chief justice later characterized the event as a “public hazing,” in which members of the Court “according to protocol,” have to sit by, expressionless, surrounded by members of Congress “cheering and hollering.”

Those comments seemed a signal that Roberts would not attend again. But in the wake of the Tucson shootings, he has apparently reconsidered.

After all, the mood of the country right now seems to call for alleviating, not aggravating divisions.

The court would not identify who the other five justices are who plan to attend, but it is believed that they are Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, Clinton appointees Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Obama appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

That leaves as absentees the Court’s most conservative Justices — Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

Alito is out of town, teaching a course in Hawaii. Scalia has not attended since 1997, and Thomas rarely attends, though he did attend President Obama’s first speech in 2009.

In reality, Supreme Court attendance is often spotty, even non-existent.

Breyer is the only Justice who thinks going is important, and since 2001, he has four times been the only Justice there. Indeed, in 2000, when he was sick, none of the Justices went.

So the decision by Scalia and Thomas not to go is hardly remarkable. However, the two conservatives have been in the limelight over the past few days for other reasons.

Justice Scalia gave a lecture on the Constitution to the Tea Party Caucus Monday night, which sparked heated cries of partisanship.

But the controversy fizzled when the caucus invited Democrats to participate and when legal ethics experts said there was nothing wrong with Scalia’s appearance, especially since he talks to the ACLU too.

Justice Thomas, on the other hand, couldn’t escape his critics so easily when it turned out that he failed to disclose information about his wife’s income, as required under the Ethics In Government Act.

After the liberal watchdog group Common Cause revealed the omission over the weekend, Thomas amended his financial disclosure forms for 13 years, detailing her employment — including nearly $700,000 in salary over four years from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Thomas said the omission was based on a “misunderstanding of the filing instructions.” There is no criminal penalty for such a failure to disclose. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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