President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday was hardly one that would keep Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and most likely many others — from nodding off from time to time.
Ginsburg, who was seated in the first row, arrived looking ready for a party — sporting a glamorous gold statement necklace over her black robe and a pair of what looked like black mesh gloves.
But it wasn’t just that we’d all heard many of the lines before. Seemed nothing that night was stimulating enough for Ginsburg to ward off what the Bard called “nature’s soft nurse.” (Henry IV, part 2). Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also appeared at times to be struggling to stay awake.
Starting only a few minutes into the speech, Ginsburg began doing that telltale head nod-and-jerk motion. Even raucous applause and standing ovations at various points in the speech didn’t rouse her.
Justice Stephen Breyer, seated to Ginsburg’s left, valiantly gave her subtle nudges when she looked in danger of pitching over. And at one point, it looked like Breyer and Justice Anthony Kennedy, seated on her right, had wedged her in between them to keep her upright.
This would not be the first time that the 79-year-old justice has fallen asleep at State of the Union speeches. She has joked that in the past former Justice David Souter was the designated nudger.
As for the remaining justices, in case anyone was wondering about the Court’s attendance. Chief Justice John Roberts, though he has expressed concerns about the justices’ presence, was there. He has attended every State of the Union address since he was appointed in September 2005, Reuters reported.
Breyer has generally attended since he joined the court in 1994, according to research conducted by Michael Giles, an Emory University professor, and Todd Peppers, a professor at Roanoke College.
Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, both Obama appointees, have been regulars.
Justice Clarence Thomas generally skips and hasn’t been in several years — though we seem to recall he was there for Obama’s first SOTU in 2009.
Justice Antonin Scalia hasn’t been in years either, and Tuesday night he was at George Washington University doing a question-and-answer for Smithsonian Associates with NPR’s Nina Totenberg.
“It has turned into a childish spectacle,” Scalia said at the event. “I don’t want to be there to lend dignity to it.” But his scheduling conflict was not intentional, The Associated Press reported.
“I didn’t set this up tonight just to upstage the president,” he said. “The State of the Union is not something I mark on my calendar, like Easter or Yom Kippur.”
Justice Samuel Alito has not been there since the famous “not true” episode in 2010, when Obama criticized a court ruling, our colleague Bob Barnes notes. However, it was also Alito’s mother’s funeral Tuesday in New Jersey.
The attending justices’ spouses were also there. Jane Roberts was seated next to the 102-year-old lady, Desiline Victor, in Michelle Obama’s box, and Mary Kennedy and Joanna Hare Breyer also attended, as did the late Justice William Douglas’s wife, Cathy Douglas Stone.