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Reactions split on Obama's remark, Alito's response at State of the Union

The Washington Post's Robert Barnes explains what happened between the president and the Supreme Court during the State of the Union speech Wednesday night.

But such criticism has been minimal under recent presidents, and Obama's criticism was particularly pointed, coming less than a week after the court's decision.

White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton shrugged off the controversy. "One of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases," he said.

Alito, once more out of public view, declined through a court spokeswoman Thursday to talk about the event, even to clarify what he said.

Others wondered what it meant for future relations. The court's attendance at the State of the Union address often seems forced; because justices do not want to seem partial to initiatives that might one day come before them, they usually sit silently among partisans who cheer or jeer.

This may call into question the tradition, said Texas professor Powe. "I do not expect to see justices at the next State of the Union address," he said.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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