Justice Ginsburg’s SOTU verdict


U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, second from right, appears to take a nap while the rest of her fellow justices listen to President Obama’s State of the Union speech. (Jason Reed/Reuters)
Al Kamen
Columnist February 13, 2013

President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday was hardly one that would have kept 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.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

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’s head began doing that telltale nod-and-jerk motion. Even raucous applause and standing ovations didn’t rouse her.

Justice Stephen Breyer, seated to Ginsburg’s left, valiantly gave her subtle nudges. And at one point it looked as if Breyer and Justice Anthony Kennedy, seated on her right, had wedged her in between them to keep her upright.

This wasn’t the first time the 79-year-old justice has fallen asleep at State of the Union speeches. She has joked that Justice David Souter, now retired, was once 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 reportedly was not intentional.

“I didn’t set this up tonight just to upstage the president,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “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 Robert Barnes notes. But it was also the day of Alito’s mother’s funeral in New Jersey.

The attending justices’ spouses were also there. Jane Roberts was seated next to Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old lady in Michelle Obama’s box. Mary Kennedy and Joanna Hare Breyer also attended, as did Cathy Douglas Stone, wife of the late Justice William Douglas.

Quite a temp job

Sen. Mo Cowan might only be a senator for six months. But the Massachusetts Democrat appointed to fill the remainder of the term vacated when John Kerry was sworn in as secretary of state won’t just be a seat warmer — he’ll be plenty busy.

Cowan was appointed on Tuesday to three committees: Agriculture, Commerce and Small Business.

Wait — agriculture? We’re not aware that there are a whole lot of farms in the greater Boston area (though we hear the ivy crops are really thriving), but perhaps he’ll delve more into the other areas of that committee’s jurisdiction, such as nutrition, school lunches and the like.

Another trickle-down effect: Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) snagged a spot on the powerful tax-writing Finance panel vacated by the Massachusetts Democrat.

Not Tony Soprano

In what was probably his final press briefing as defense secretary, Leon Panetta got a little existential Wednesday.

Asked if there was anything about that 2011 CIA raid in Pakistan in which Osama bin Laden was killed that wasn’t publicly known, Panetta laughed and indicated that some people might be confusing fact and fiction. “It wasn’t James Gandolfini who did that,” he said, referring to the actor who played him in “Zero Dark Thirty,” the ripped-from-the-headlines movie about the operation.

Panetta has said he thought the thespian, a fellow Italian American, did a “great job” of playing a CIA director in the movie — a character clearly based on Panetta (in his previous job).

Looks as though Panetta is exiting on that relatively light note. The Senate could vote as soon as this week on the nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be his replacement at the Pentagon.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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