U.S. Supreme Court

Catcalls and Muttering Keep Justice Thomas Away from State of the Union


Justice Clarence Thomas won’t see himself in the news for reacting to the president’s State of the Union speech for one simple reason: He doesn’t attend because of all the partisanship, catcalls and muttering.

Thomas’ U.S. Supreme Court colleague, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., found himself in the news when he mouthed the words “not true” in response to an assertion by President Obama in his State of the Union speech last week. Obama had remarked that a recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance had undone a century of law.

Thomas told students at an appearance at Stetson University College of Law why he skipped the president’s speech, according to stories by WTSP.com, TampaBay.com and WUSF.com.

“I don’t go because it’s become so partisan,” said Thomas. “And it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there. And there’s a lot you don’t hear on TV—the catcalls, and the hooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments. So we decided not to go and some members continue to go, and that’s fine. But one of the consequences is now the court becomes part of the conversation—if you want to call it that—in the speeches.”

Students also asked Thomas about the campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 5-4 opinion found a First Amendment right for corporations to expressly support candidates in the days before elections.

“If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’ll say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” Thomas said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’ll say you still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association. But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?”

Another student asked whether the decision would disenfranchise those without corporate resources, according to the TampaBay.com story. “The law can’t solve all our problems,” Thomas said.

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