Chief Justice Roberts to attend Trump's State of the Union amid impeachment trial

Chief Justice John Roberts
Chief Justice John Roberts during the impeachment trial in the Senate Chamber on Jan. 30, 2020. Copyright Senate TV via AFP - Getty Images
By Pete Williams with NBC News Politics
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Rehnquist was absent from the speech to a joint session of Congress by President Clinton in 1999 when his trial was ongoing.


WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to attend Tuesday night's State of the Union address by President Donald Trump to a joint session of Congress, even though he is presiding over the Senate impeachment trial that ends on Wednesday.

His decision to attend, along with three other members of the Supreme Court, is at odds with Chief Justice William Rehnquist's absence from the State of the Union address by President Clinton in 1999. Rehnquist was presiding over Clinton's impeachment trial at the time.

Roberts has been present at every State of the Union address since he became chief justice in the fall of 2005. That, too, is a departure from the practice of Rehnquist, who did not always attend.

Three other justices are expected to be at Tuesday's address — Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Kagan, appointed to the court by President Barack Obama, has also attended every one of the events since she came onto the court in the fall of 2010. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are both Trump appointees.

Roberts, Kagan, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are the same four who attended last year's State of the Union address by President Trump.

As for the other justices, Clarence Thomas rarely attends the event. Stephen Breyer was understood to be traveling and coping with the flu. Samuel Alito stopped going after 2010, when he was seen mouthing the words "not true" as President Obama blasted the court for its Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations and labor unions to make campaign-related contributions. Sonia Sotomayor sometimes is present and sometimes not.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has never attended a State of the Union speech when a Republican is president.

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