WASHINGTON, D.C. – Chief Justice John Roberts, lately a fixture at the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, was among the four Supreme Court justices in the House of Representatives for the president’s State of the Union speech Tuesday.
Roberts has never missed a presidential address to Congress since joining the court in 2005, and arrived to the opposite end of the Capitol from the Senate Tuesday evening, despite an apparent cold he picked up during the trial over which he is presiding.
Trump stopped to greet Roberts, shaking his hand and speaking with him as Roberts stood stone-faced. The justice said, “Thank you," as the president walked past.
Roberts' predecessor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, was not present for the State of the Union speech President Bill Clinton delivered during his Senate impeachment trial in 1999. But Rehnquist rarely showed up for the speeches, and Roberts once related that Rehnquist missed one State of the Union because it conflicted with the watercolor class he was taking at the local YMCA.
Three other justices, Elena Kagan and Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined Roberts Tuesday. Kagan also has been to every State of the Union address since she became a justice in 2010. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh also have perfect attendance, though they have shorter records. It is common for justices to be present for speeches by the president who chose them.
Justice Stephen Breyer often attends, but he is traveling and has flu-like symptoms that prevented him from returning to Washington for the speech, the court said.
Breyer was the only justice to cross the street from the court to the Capitol for at least four presidential speeches, including President George W. Bush's first speech to Congress in 2001. That took place a couple months after the justices voted 5-4 in Bush v. Gore to stop Florida's ballot recount and ensure Bush's presidency. Breyer had opposed halting the recount.
In 2000, no justice attended Clinton's last State of the Union. Breyer had the flu then, too.