The SCOTUS at the SOTU: Did They Exhibit "Good Behavior"?

Last night, four Supreme Court justices -- Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer, and Justice Samuel Alito, sworn in just a few hours earlier -- attended the State of the Union. The SCOTUS at the SOTU always presents tricky issues. The judiciary is the least political of the three branches, so how should its members comport themselves at this most political of events? To clap, or not to clap; that is the question.

justice thomas.jpgBut it's not just about the clapping and the standing; the justices also need to monitor their facial expressions. A reader asked us: "Did you notice Clarence Thomas wince when Bush mentioned wiretapping (9:35ish)? And Roberts smile? In the same shot."

We didn't catch this -- but it's not that surprising. The squeaky-clean Chief Justice isn't afraid of someone eavesdropping on all his calls -- he probably tells off telemarketers politely. But Justice Thomas wants some privacy for all those calls to 1-900-BIG-JUGS.

After the jump, additional analysis of reactions from the robed ones.

Dana Milbank watched the justices closely at last night's speech and provides this helpful scorecard in the Washington Post:

At times, Alito followed the lead of the other three justices who sat with him in the front row. When Bush said "We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it," Thomas looked at Roberts, who looked at Breyer, who gave an approving shrug; all four gentlemen stood and gave unanimous applause.

At other times, Alito showed independence from his senior colleagues. When Bush delivered the stock line "The state of our union is strong," Alito dissented while the other three robed justices in the front row applauded. When Bush declared that "liberty is the right and hope of all humanity," Alito was the only member of the judicial quartet to provide his concurring applause.

When Bush said "We will never surrender to evil," the justices conferred briefly. Breyer shook his head, but Roberts overruled him, and Breyer reluctantly stood with his three colleagues.

New Justice's First Challenge: Clap On or Clap Off? [WP]


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