Retired Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Anthony M. Kennedy attended President Biden‘s State of the Union address Tuesday, marking the first time in more than two decades that retired justices came to the event, according to court watchers.
They were joined by Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Retired justices hadn’t attended a president’s State of the Union since the late Justice Byron White attended President Clinton’s 1997 speech.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. have not attended the annual event in years.
Justice Alito reportedly stopped going after he mouthed “not true” in 2010 when President Obama was critical of the high court’s ruling related to campaign finance.
It’s common for a few justices to attend the speech each year.
Justice Breyer and Justice Kennedy were regulars at the State of the Union while they were on the court.
Justice Breyer retired last year, replaced by Justice Jackson. Justice Kennedy retired in 2018 and was replaced by Justice Kavanaugh.
Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow and director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute, said there’s not much to make of retired justices attending the State of the Union. He did note, “The total number of justices (five current plus two retired) was high compared to recent years, which is probably just a sign that everyone’s ready for things to get back to normal after the pandemic. President Biden‘s references to both John Roberts and Elena Kagan were unusual, but provided some levity even if the jokes were somewhat stilted.”