In a wide-ranging discussion with reporters and students at New York Law School, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said fewer justices are likely to attend State of the Union addresses in the future.
“It is not much fun to go because you put on a black robe and march in and you’re seated in the front row,” O’Connor told the Associated Press. “(You) put your hands in your lap and have no expression on your face throughout the proceedings. You can clap when the president comes in and when he leaves and that’s it. It’s very awkward.”
She noted that Justice John Paul Stevens hasn’t attended a State of the Union in years and that Justice Clarence Thomas rarely goes. The issue of Supreme Court justices attending the annual address came to the forefront earlier this year following President Obama’s State of the Union.
After Obama criticized a Supreme Court decision that dealt with corporate campaign financing, Justice Samuel Alito could be seen shaking his head and saying “not true.”
“You might see a diminution in numbers,” O’Connor said. “It’s always been uncomfortable. There were always people who thought, ‘God, do we have to go? Let’s don’t.’ So it’s been kind of a struggle to get them there anyway.”
Earlier this month, Chief Justice John Roberts also questioned attendance by members of the high court. He called Obama’s criticism “very troubling” and said that State of the Union addresses have “degenerated into a political pep rally.”
Among other topics touched on by O’Connor, who served 25 years on the Supreme Court before retiring in 2006, included diversity on the court. She said it should be more inclusive of women, non-judges and Protestants.
“I think that religion should not be the basis for an appointment, but if that were the case, one would expect somewhere in the nine to see a Protestant or two,” she said. “You’ll probably see someone eventually.”