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  • The Case for Justices Staying Home

    The New York Times highlighted a speech that Justice Clarence Thomas delivered at a Florida law school in which he defended the Supreme Court’s recent campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC.  In that speech, Thomas also addressed why he chose to forgo the president’s state of the union address:

    “I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” he said, adding that “there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV — the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”

    “One of the consequences,” he added in an apparent reference to last week’s address, “is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go.”

    Jennifer Rubin of Commentary Magazine had some interesting insights on these comments.  Rubin notes that the State of the Union has increasingly become a forum for the president to “lay out a political agenda” and—apparently now—make jabs at the other branches of government.  It is understandable that judges, who are not political players, would be uncomfortable at such an event.

    “And really,” Rubin continues, “there is no purpose to be served by the judges sitting mutely (or not) as the president solicits cheers for health care or incurs boos for a budget freeze.”  Rubin is right.  Judges are fundamentally apolitical in their offices.  Judges take no part in crafting or promoting laws and policies, so there is no reason they need to be present while the president briefs lawmakers about his policy plans.

    Rubin makes an interesting reference to the ABA’s Canon 4 of judicial ethics, which forbids judges from engaging in political or campaign activity “that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.”  While Rubin does not think that attending the State of the Union address amounts to “political activity,” she does suggest that the increasing political nature of the event—especially its interactivity—makes it come close:

    If the purpose of that rule is to maintain the divide between judges and politics and to avoid ensnaring judges in partisan brawls, then a good place to start would be for justices to follow Justice Thomas’s guidance.

    Attending the State of the Union does not amount to a violation of judicial ethics, and therefore no disparagement should attach to justices who choose to attend, but given the partisan nature of the event, and the recent attempt of the President to use the speech to politicize Supreme Court decisions, attendance certainly does not help to fulfill the rule’s purpose of insulating judges from politics.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    18 Responses to The Case for Justices Staying Home

    1. Kathye, NC says:

      Way to go, Justice Thomas! I wish the others hadn't gone either.

    2. al walker says:

      EVERYONE should stay home when Obama (THE LIAR) is speaking. His lies are so laughable I dont understand how the republicans dont bust out laughing when he makes those phony claims. "We saved 2 million jobs with stimulous", "most of the Healthcare bill was transparent and easily followed by the people", "I have no lobbyists in policymaking positions in my administration", oh and this one at the GOP Meeting, Im not an idealogue, no really Im not"" ROTFLMAOOOOO!

      Hey barrack, seems your harvard education qualified you to be a great comedian!!

    3. canuck Fort Myers, F says:

      If none but the two liberal females show up for the next SOTU undoubtedly the press will then accuse the SCOTUS as being politicized…not Obama who is the true culprit.

    4. Linda, Maryland says:

      I support Justice Thomas' decision not to attend the State of the Union address, it was a wise decision.

    5. ileana Ramos - Naple says:

      THank you for having GUTS, Justice Thomas -I've always believed you & believed in you – and pray for conservative judges to be 'allowed' back into our judicial system. Obama is a nightmare & an embarrassment to our country and this last speech was pathetic, especially his mistaken interpretation of the Supreme Court's decision – God bless you!

      ile – along with thousands more in Naples, FL

    6. nancy mccombs, eules says:

      Justice Thomas….

      YOU ROCK! I read your autobiography last summer, and I believe you are

      one of the greatest Americans of our time! God bless you!

    7. Anna, Wilmington, NC says:

      God Bless our Justices. Bravo Zulu to Justice Thomas for his decision not to attend the State of the Union.

    8. Lloyd Welch Valdese, says:

      I like Justice Thomas did not listen to it. I did read and listen to highlights the next and saw why I didn't listen to it. It seems to me as Senator Burr (R-NC) said the next day. It was like being taken to the principals office (this is not a word for word quote) He scolded the Supreme Court, the Senate, the State of Massachusetts, and generally everybody in government that didn't agree with him and his policies. Then in so many words told the American people they were idiots. That we needed someone much more intelligent than we are to fully explain just how wonderful having people in Washington making our medical decisions for us would be, How we really deserve to be fined and put in jail if we don't want government health care and, how it is our responsibility to pay for someones bad judgement in getting pregnant and wanting abortion on demand. Well thank you very much Mr. President but no thanks. I think I have said before that this State of the Union address was the same tripe he sold the nation during his campaign. Just a different box with different wrapping paper and a prettier bow.

    9. Gail in Starke, Flor says:

      I do support the decision of Justice Thomas. The look on all the judges' faces said it all. They were stunned, as should be our nation, at the vicious comments from the Executive branch of government. It was actually pretty frightening to hear the confrontation. Obama clearly thinks more highly of himself than he ought. God bless you Justice Thomas!

    10. Caroline Pribble,Lin says:

      I'm glad some of the judges attended the state of the union address. We got to see just how offensive the presidents remarks were. We wouldn't have seen the reaction of the judge. Obama is classless, and way too full of himself.

    11. Patty, Tacoma says:

      My military sons are duty bound to respect their commander in chief, regardless of personal opinions. Is it too much to expect the highest office of the United States to be held to the same degree of respect for our democratic government (judicial included)? The president verbally "wiped his feet" on that honorable symbol of our nation when he used the State of the Union Address to critique them. Justice Thomas shows his personal integrity by his choice to not attend.

    12. Bonita L. Price, Cor says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with Justice Thomas. To have the President of the United States make jabs at The Justices of the Supreme Court is beyond rude, crude and totally uncalled for! Obviously, as shown by Justice Alito's reaction, the President didn't even know what he was talking about when he mentioned the case the Justices had ruled on. Had he even read their decision? I thought Obama was a Constitutional Lawyer at one time? I think, from this point on, that all of the Justices ought not attend one more speech given by Obama!

    13. Pam, Troy, N.Y. says:

      After the public scolding the justices were subjected to by the President in this year's State of the Union…and the accompanying standing ovation by the Democrats…I bet that a lot more of them stay home next year. I was embarrassed for them.

    14. EVELYN LEBANON, OREG says:


    15. Jerry J, La Vista NE says:

      Attending the State of the Union may be considered symbolic of the 3 branches of government and it check & balance system. A flaw in the system is the Presidential Appointment of Attorney General and appointing federal judges across the country. It allows for Presidential & Congressional influences into the Judiciary System.

      I Agree with Justice Thomas. Presidents are using the "State of the Union Address" to indirectly try to influence the Judiciary & as we saw added the media pressure by putting cameras on selected individuals to watch their reactions, even persons who are not in public view.

      Who selected and approved those camera shots? If only 1 set of cameras which all media have to use?

    16. Jason, Arkansas says:

      Good for Thomas. I remember seeing the other justices there and thought it seemed odd to see them there. Attending does seem a bit too borderline for someone whose job is so dependent on impartiality.

    17. Brett Brown Arlingto says:

      One of the best and brightest judges, Justice Thomas, was the one most ridiculed and slandered by the democrats.

    18. Andrew Sisson says:

      Judge Thomas is exactly correct. One of the biggest problems IS the courts being FULL of activists, and if you proclaim your intent to UPHOLD the Constitution, you are insulted by Democrats (and Progressive Republicans) AND the media. Why? Because that's the agenda. It's PLAIN to see. Read Men in Black by Mark Levin. You'll see exactly why Judge Thomas is absolutely correct in NOT attending.

      The COnstitution is NOT a living document, it is a document and a foundation of the coutry that Obama and the CUSA is attempting to destroy..

    19. Steve, Pacifica says:

      Oh, the State of the Union speech? Is that what it was? I thought it was a publicized temper tantrum he wanted us to watch for not getting his way.

      What a small, petty, vindictive little man he is, so void of anything presidential in his character that would make him worthy of the office.

      I guess it's easy to become full of yourself after a couple of decades of leading ACORN constituents around by the nose and it would also be easy to become petulant and pissy when you finally have to deal with a more intelligent, informed class of people who ain't buying into your line of BS.

      Boo-hoo, poor baby isn't getting his way. Waaah!

    20. Pingback: SCOTUSblog » Monday round-up

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