Scholars: Fewer Justices Attend State of the Union Speech

“Fewer and fewer” Supreme Court justices have attended over time the annual State of the Union address delivered by the president, two scholars write in a Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy article that examines attendance at the event from 1917 — when the court began attending — to 2011.

In the years between 1965 and 1980, attendances by the justices was about 84 percent; between 1982 and 1999, 56 percent; and from 2000 to the present, 32 percent, according to Todd C. Peppers of Roanoke College and Micheal W. Giles of Emory University.

As for the reasons behind the attendance rates, the authors say, “On the margins, judicial attendance can be partially explained by a justice’s age and/or length of tenure on the Supreme Court. Whether it is increasing infirmity or boredom, justices attend fewer State of the Union addresses as they grow older.”

In 2010, debate about justices attending the annual address was sparked after President Obama criticized the court’s Citizens United ruling, and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. shook his head and mouthed “not true” in response (see Gavel Grab).

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