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Who's a 'Potted Plant' Now? 6 of 9 Justices Attend 2013 SOTU

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 13, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Three years ago, Justice Samuel Alito was spotted shaking his head during the State of the Union, and denouncing President Obama's explanation of the Court's Citizens United decision as "not true."

He hasn't returned since.

Justice Alito once described a justice's role in attending the State of the Union as sitting there "like the proverbial potted plant." It's a role he doesn't particularly enjoy. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas similarly abhor the SOTU. Thomas cannot abide "the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments," reports The New York Times. Scalia calls it a "juvenile spectacle."

Justice Stephen Breyer occupies the opposite end of the participatory spectrum. He has attended all but one year since being appointed. When he stayed home with the flu in 2000, there was no representative of the Court at the address.

But this year, six of the nine justices were present at the annual "political pep rally," as Chief Justice John Roberts -- a regular attendee -- describes it.

In addition to the Chief Justice and Breyer, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan all reported to the House chambers last night. And five of those six managed to stay awake through most of President Obama's speech. (Justice Ginsburg and I clearly have something in common.)

All in all, it wasn't a particularly exciting SOTU from a judicial standpoint. President Obama didn't criticize the Supreme Court's rulings, like he did in 2010 with his Citizens United comments. He didn't give Justice Roberts a high five (rhetorical or otherwise) for being the swing vote for the Affordable Care Act. In fact, there was barely any reference at all to the Affordable Care Act.

Other than handshakes and kisses upon entering chambers, the president largely ignored the justices.

For the justices, it was just another year, sitting through the speech. Like the proverbial potted plant.

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