Contact:  Sandy Adkins
Communications Specialist
National Center for State Courts


Who’s Coming to the State of the Union — and Which Judges Attend in the States?

Williamsburg, Va. (Jan. 24, 2011) — Before President Obama utters the first words of his State of the Union (SOTU) address Tuesday night, news will already be made: Are Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. and other members of the U.S. Supreme Court in the audience? Because of last year's SOTU, this year's attendance — or nonattendance — by the justices is likely to be big news.

During 2010's speech, President Obama criticized the court's ruling in the Citizens United campaign-finance case. Chief Justice Roberts and the associate justices in attendance sat silent as the gallery around them gave the president a standing ovation. However, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was shown on camera uttering the words "not true" in response to one of the president's claims, and news outlets are reporting that Justice Alito has already indicated he is skipping this year's speech. Chief Justice Roberts later said of the 2010 SOTU that he felt he was attending a political "pep rally" for the president.

With all eyes on the Supreme Court's attendance at Tuesday's SOTU, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) polled the states on whether members of their highest courts are invited to attend the State of the State addresses given by their governors.

As of Jan. 21, 29 State of the State addresses had been given, and at least some members of 27 states' courts of last resort were present at those addresses. The two states where no justices attended the 2011 address were Alaska and Nebraska, both states where justices are traditionally not invited to the speeches. 

The following is a list of states where at least some justices attended their state's 2011 State of the State Address:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota*
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont*
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

*By tradition, the incoming or incumbent governor delivers only an inaugural address. This information refers to those inaugural addresses.


The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.