WASHINGTON (AP) — When Supreme Court justices enter the House of Representatives in their black robes for the president’s next State of the Union address, Samuel Alito does not plan to be among them.
The justice said the annual speech to Congress has become very political and awkward for the justices, who he says are expected to sit “like the proverbial potted plant.”
Of course, Alito did not remain impassive at the most recent State of the Union speech by President Barack Obama. He reacted to Obama’s unusual rebuke of the court for its decision in a campaign finance case by shaking his head and mouthing the words “not true.”
The 60-year-old justice, an appointee of President George W. Bush, acknowledged with a smile that his colleagues “who are more disciplined refrain from manifesting any emotion or opinion whatsoever.”
Alito, answering questions following a speech Wednesday at the conservative Manhattan Institute in New York, also said, “Presidents will fake you out.” The institute provided an online video link to Alito’s talk and question-and-answer session.
The president will begin a sentence with an invocation of the country’s greatness, Alito said. If justices don’t jump up and applaud, “you look very unpatriotic,” he said.
But, Alito continued, then the president may finish the thought by adding “because we’re conducting a surge in Iraq or because we’re enacting health care reform.” Justices aren’t supposed to react to statements about policy or politics.
The better course, Alito said, is to follow the example of more experienced justices like Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and the recently retired John Paul Stevens. None has attended in several years.
“So I doubt that I will be there in January,” Alito said.
At least one justice, Stephen Breyer, has said he was not bothered by Obama’s criticism and believes justices should attend so that viewers can see the three branches of government represented in the same room.