WASHINGTON (CNN) –- Some of the best seats in the House of Representatives chamber at President Obama’s first address to Congress Tuesday night will be reserved for members of the Supreme Court. But despite being guaranteed front-row center seats, the jurists frequently decide to skip the event entirely.
Attendance at presidential annual messages by the nine-member Supreme Court has not exceeded six since at least 1995. At each address from 2000 through 2008, there were fewer justices in attendance than the five required to pass a majority opinion on the high court.
Court attendance has improved since Chief Justice John Roberts was sworn-in in September 2005. Four justices were in attendance for each address delivered from 2006 through 2008. Among those was Justice Samuel Alito, who attended his first address as a member of the Supreme Court in 2006, just hours after winning Senate confirmation.
Justice Stephen Breyer is the undisputed "Iron Man" of Supreme Court State of the Union/annual presidential message attendance. He has attended 12 of the last 13 speeches, more than any other justice, and is the only Supreme Court justice to have attended each of President George W. Bush's annual messages. Breyer was the sole representative of the high court at the 2001, 2003 and 2004 addresses, and has only missed one State of the Union since joining the court in 1994.
No members of the court were in attendance in 2000 and 1986 due to travel conflicts and illnesses.
Supreme Court Justices in attendance at recent presidential addresses:
2008: Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Kennedy
2007: Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Kennedy
2006: Roberts, Thomas, Breyer, Alito
2002: Kennedy, Breyer
2000: None (due to illnesses and travel conflicts)
1999: O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsberg, Breyer
1998: Rehnquist, O'Connor, Souter, Thomas, Breyer
1997: Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsberg, Breyer, White (retired)
1996: Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsberg, Breyer
1995: Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Ginsberg, Breyer, Blackmun (retired)