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Breyer Keeps Up Bush Speech Attendance

  Law Center  -   POSTED: 2008/01/29 16:57

Four Supreme Court justices donned their robes to attend this year's State of the Union, but only one among them could boast a perfect attendance record during the Bush presidency.

Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Clinton and a one-time aide to Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, has been in the House of Representatives for all seven of Bush's State of the Union speeches.

On three occasions he was the only justice to cross the street from the court to the Capitol. In addition, Breyer also was the only justice at Bush's first speech to Congress in 2001, a couple months after the justices voted 5-4 to stop Florida's ballot recount and ensure Bush's presidency. Breyer had opposed halting the recount.

Breyer was joined Monday by Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy.

Roberts and Alito, Bush's two court appointees, have attended all three speeches since joining the court.

The last time Breyer missed the State of the Union was in 2000, in Clinton's last year in office. He had the flu.

That speech was the only time in recent memory when no justice was present, other than in 1986, when the speech was rescheduled because of the explosion of the Challenger shuttle.

Justices typically have said little about why they do or don't attend the speech. One exception is Justice Antonin Scalia, who hasn't gone in at least nine years.

Scalia, commenting in 2000, said the speech has become increasingly partisan — a potential problem for justices who customarily refrain from applauding anything even remotely political.

"One side will clap for this, and then the other side will clap for that," Scalia said. "And you know, we sit there like bumps on a log."

___

Put the second woman on the Supreme Court together with the first woman on Great Britain's highest court and what do you get? A conversation about bathrooms, of course.

"Everybody's got a bathroom story, haven't they?" said Lady Brenda Hale, the first woman Law Lord, at a recent forum at Georgetown University's law school with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg recalled that when she joined the court in 1993, court workers altered the woman's bathroom adjacent to the room where the justices put on their robes to make it as large as the men's room. But it took a letter from advice columnist Dear Abby to get the court to change its tradition and open public women's bathrooms before 9 a.m., she said.

Sandra Day O'Connor, named to the Supreme Court in 1981, "had taken care of most of the irrationalities before I got there," Ginsburg said.

Hale told her own tale of being informed there was no women's restroom at the Privy Council, the final appeals court for the British empire.

The trailblazing judges also discussed recent changes in England that include renaming the high court the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, moving the court from Parliament to its own building and instituting mandatory retirement at 75.

Hale, also known as the Baroness Hale of Richmond, said the age limit was a response to colleagues "who went on long beyond it was sensible for them to go on, but were not sufficiently incompetent to be removed."

Ginsburg noted with relief that there is no retirement age for U.S. judges. She will turn 75 in March.


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