Absence of 3 Conservative Judges From State of the Union Address Turns Political
Absence of 3 Conservative Judges From State of the Union Address Turns Political

By Alice Giordano

Three of the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices were conspicuously absent from President Joe Biden’s State of the Union (SOTU) address.

The no-shows of Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, and Samuel Alito followed just one week after the high court agreed to review the argument by former President Donald Trump that he has immunity against prosecution for allegedly inciting an insurrection at the United Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The acceptance of the case was followed by an order from the court to stay the Court of Appeals ruling rejecting President Trump’s claim of prosecutorial immunity until oral arguments can be heard.

They are set for April 25.

While it is not unusual for only some of the Supreme Court justices to attend SOTU addresses, Democrats made the absence of the three conservative justices an issue on social media.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who is leading efforts to pressure Justice Thomas to recuse himself from the Court’s review of the Trump case, specifically mocked Justice Thomas in an X post.  “Clarence Thomas recused himself from the #SOTU!” he wrote.

Kaivan Shroff, a Democratic political commentator and press secretary for the pro-Biden Gen-Z Dream for America and former digital organizer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, also posted sneering comments about the conservative justices’ absences.

President Biden’s singling out of the Supreme Court justices also fueled fury from Republicans like Garrett Ventry, a Congressional insider who was involved in Trump nominee Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment, who slammed the president for personally attacking the Supreme Court justices. “Joe Biden attacking the Supreme Court at the SOTU is disgusting, unprecedented, and dangerous. Totally inappropriate, and should be widely condemned,” Mr. Ventry posted on X.

The three missing justices account for one-third of the Supreme Court.

The remaining six were in attendance and had front row seats to President Biden’s address including his sharp comments directed at the Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade. The 1973 ruling created a federal guarantee of a woman’s right to an abortion.

With the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, abortion rights now rest in the hands of the states.

“With all due respect, justices, women are not without [pause] electoral or political power,” President Biden said.

His comment followed what many media outlets deemed as an unscripted moment when he lashed out—”You’re about to realize just how much …”

If he had more to say it was curtailed by Democrats who stammered to their feet in thunderous applause and cheers in support of President Biden’s admonishment to the Supreme Court justices.

The three missing justices also account for three of the five justices who voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Justice Coney Barrett, a Trump appointee, attended President Biden’s past State of the Union addresses.

Both Justices Alito and Thomas have not attended any of President Biden’s State of the Union addresses.

Both have pending financial ethics complaints against them by Democrats for allegedly accepting lavish gifts from wealthy conservatives.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also has called for an investigation into Justice Alito on allegations he tried to block legislative reform of the Supreme Court’s ethical guidelines.

Justice Alito, who was nominated by George W. Bush in 2005, has not attended a SOTU address since 2010. That year he was captured on camera mouthing what many interpreted to be saying “not true” when then President Barack Obama chastised the Supreme Court for lifting campaign spending limits.

Justice Thomas, who was appointed by the senior President Bush in 1991, has skipped all of President Biden’s SOTU addresses.

In 2012, after skipping President Obama’s SOTU, Justice Thomas told a group of college students he did so because the presidential address has become so partisan and thus uncomfortable for a judge to sit through.

“There’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV—the catcalls, the whooping and hollering, and under-the-breath comments,” Justice Thomas told students at Stetson University College of Law according to the New York Times. “One of the consequences 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.”

In December a group of Democrats, including Mr. Johnson, penned a letter asking Justice Thomas to sit out the Supreme Court review of President Trump’s immunity claim.

In their Dec. 15, 2023 letter, the Democrats cite the involvement of Justice Thomas’s wife Virginia “Ginni” Clarence in a pro-Trump rally near The Capitol on Jan. 6, and her belief that the 2020 election was stolen.

“Your wife not only attended the pro-Trump rally that preceded the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol, she was one of nine board members for a conservative political group that helped lead the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement,” the group wrote.

Ms. Clarence was also investigated as a potential source of the leak of the Supreme Court ruling draft of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

In January 2023, Supreme Court Marshal Gail Curley, responsible for investigating the leak, issued a report concluding it was impossible to determine who was the source of the leak.

Ms. Clarence has vehemently denied being the source of the leak or engaging in any wrongdoing relative to the Jan. 6 allegations.

In a 2022 letter to the Select Committee to investigate Jan. 6, her attorney Mark Paoletta, a former chief counsel for Oversight & Investigations for the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said that Ms. Clarence has been subject to an “avalanche of death threats and other abuse by the unprecedented assault on the conservative Supreme Court Justices and their families.”

Mr. Paoletta shared and reposted Mr. Ventry’s comments about President Biden’s attacks on the Supreme Court justices.

Other Supreme Court justices who have absented SOTU addresses include the late Antoin Scalia, who said more than a decade ago, that he forgoes their attendance because they are a “childish spectacle” and doesn’t want “to be there to lend dignity to it.”

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