The media reports today that the conservative Supreme Court Justices—Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and swing-voter Kennedy—may not show up at the State of the Union Address tomorrow night. One cable news organization speculates that none of the justices may attend. Only Justice Alito has stated that he will not attend, although Justices Scalia and Thomas usually do not appear.
The reasons are that they think that they should give the appearance of impartiality by refraining from standing and applauding during the speech as others in the chamber do, but, of course, that makes it seem as if they are showing partiality; that, in the event, they see the address as having degenerated into a pep rally for the president and his party (no matter what party the president represents); and because they do not want to hear the president insult the court as Obama did last year in referring to the court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:
With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests –- including foreign corporations –- to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. (Applause.) They should be decided by the American people. And I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.
Well, get the hell over it. Those in all branches of the government should be accountable, and if they have to face a little embarrassment, so be it. The fact is, we in the U.S. would do better to in some way emulate the Brits, whose prime minister, as a Minister of the Crown, must face the House of Commons for a half-hour each week in Questions to the Prime Minister (PMQs), and lie to the MPs as best he or she can (the PM is an MP).
Just as cabinet members must testify before Congress when called, it would not violate the separation of powers to require the president to face the House of Representatives for a half hour each week and answer questions; it would be informative to the people as well as the House members. After all, from time to time presidents call the leaders of the House and the Senate to the White House for “discussions.” Why let the president get away with only one visit to Congress every year?
As for the Supremes visiting the House chamber for the State of the Union Address, it should be protocol for them to sit on their hands and not cheer and applaud during the speech. As long as everyone is aware of the protocol, it gives the justices the appearance of impartiality. But in any event they should be present, even if their faces are reddened occasionally.
UPDATE: Justices Scalia and Thomas, who did not attend last year, will not attend tonight; and Justice Alito is away from Washington.