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Why Does Justice Scalia Attend Tea Party Talks But Not the State of the Union?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia often attends conservative events, but he's sworn off the State of the Union address for a decade. Why?

Noticeably absent from tonight's State of the Union address was Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Prior to the speech, a court spokesman confirmed that only six of the nine justices would be in attendance, but he wouldn't verify who was going and who wasn't. Tonight, we know it was Scalia and his colleague, Clarence Thomas, who bowed out (Samuel Alito wasn't present because he is teaching a law class in Hawaii this week). Indeed, both men were able to attend, they just chose to not.

For his part, Thomas has said in the past that State of the Union speeches are "too partisan" for a justice's presence. "I don't go because it has become so partisan and it's very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there," he told The New York Times.

Fine, but what about Scalia? Scalia mostly just thinks it’s stupid.

For years now, Justice Scalia has operated under the belief that the State of the Union address is little more than a "juvenile spectacle." "I don't know at what point that happened, but it did happen," Scalia told a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society late last year. "And now you go and sit there like bumps on a log while applause lines cause one half the Congress to leap up while [another] causes the other half to leap up. ... It is a juvenile spectacle. And I resent being called upon to the indignity."

Scalia has also said that it’s very easy to choose not to attend the State of the Union “when the president giving [the speech] is not the man who appointed you.”

In other words, Scalia believes the address to be a waste of his time, especially if it’s coming from someone other than Ronald Reagan.

With this fresh in mind, one should consider what events Scalia does consider worthy of his time.

Besides speaking at the Federalist Society event last year, Scalia also devoted time to chatting up a private dinner (and possible fundraiser) hosted by Charles Koch in 2007. If you’ll remember, Charles and his brother, David Koch, were the ones profiled in the August 2010 New Yorker piece “Covert Operations: the Billionaire Koch Brothers’ War on Obama.” To bring things full-circle, the Koch’s are also major donors the Federalist Society, a group dedicated to right-leaning reforms to the American legal system.

More recently, Scalia found time to speak to Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party caucus. In an immediately infamous meeting Monday, the justice and conservative lawmakers (and four Democrats) spoke at length about the Constitution and where the country is headed, and the entire conversation was off the record and closed to reporters.

Toward the end of his speech, President Obama said, “What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.”

Apparently even sitting together isn't a given.

photo (cc) via Flickr user The Higgs Boson

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