Will Supremes sit out State of the Union?

  • Updated: January 23, 2011 - 9:40 PM


John Roberts won't have to say a word to make a statement this week.

The chief justice, like his Supreme Court colleagues, must decide whether to attend President Obama's State of the Union address. Last year, Roberts sat passively as Obama drew a standing ovation from congressional Democrats by criticizing the court's just-issued campaign finance ruling.

Since then, Roberts has questioned whether the justices should continue to attend the annual speech, which he likened in March to a "political pep rally." Samuel Alito, who famously mouthed "not true" as Obama spoke, has already said he plans to stay home this year.

"Any who attended last year but don't this year will be sending the message that they were offended by Obama's attack," said Lucas Powe Jr., a Supreme Court historian who teaches at the University of Texas School of Law.

Of the five Republican-nominated justices, three attended last year: Roberts, Alito and Anthony Kennedy. The other two, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, skipped the event. Those five formed the majority in the campaign finance ruling, which freed corporations to spend money on political ads.

Three of the court's four Democratic appointees -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor -- attended last year. The fourth, Elena Kagan, was nominated by Obama in May.

Should only the Democratic appointees go, "that would be an explicit disaster, as everybody ought to realize well ahead of time," said David Garrow, a historian at Cambridge University in Britain who writes about the court. "If things devolve to where it looks like an implicit indication of support or nonsupport for whoever the current president may be, that's a big negative for the court."


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he doesn't think questions about President Obama's citizenship should play a role in the discussion of policy matters.

So-called birthers continue to argue that Obama isn't a natural-born citizen and that he hasn't proved he's constitutionally qualified to be president. Birth records in Hawaii haven't dissuaded them.

Cantor, interviewed Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," said he believes Obama is a citizen and that most Americans are beyond that question.

"I don't think it's an issue that we need to address at all. It is not an issue that even needs to be on the policymaking table right now whatsoever," he said.

Cantor refused to call people who question Obama's citizenship "crazy."

"I don't think it's nice to call anyone crazy," he said.

Cantor said he believes that Obama wants what's best for the country and that there are honest disagreements over how to achieve that.


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