W&L Visiting Professor Todd Peppers will publish “Of Potted Plants and Political Images: The Supreme Court and the State of the Union Address,” which will appear in print in the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy (Volume XXII, No. 1 (2012): 49-81).
The article, which was co-written by Emory University political scientist Micheal Giles, uses original data to test hypotheses regarding judicial attendance at the annual State of the Union address. Their interest in this topic was sparked by an incident at the 2010 State of the Union address, where Justice Alito was criticized for physically reacting to a statement that President Obama made during his speech about the Citizens United decision. In the months following the 2010 address, several conservative justices spoke out in favor of Justice Alito and in opposition to the tradition of the justices attending the annual address.
Peppers and his co-author spent six months coding judicial attendance at every state of the union address, from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. Using this original data, they examined whether judicial attendance at the annual address is a function of ideological harmony between the justice and the president (in other words, conservative justices are more likely to attend addresses given by conservative presidents than liberal justices). As they suspected, they found that judicial attendance at the State of the Union address has dramatically declined over time. As for why, they found little support for the “ideological harmony” hypothesis – finding instead that attendance is more likley related to the age and judicial tenure of the justices (the longer on the bench, the less likely justices are to attend the State of the Union address).
Dr. Todd C. Peppers is the Henry H. and Trudye Fowler Associate Professor of Public Affairs at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.