Scalia: State of the Union "has turned into a childish spectacle"

March 8, 2012 file photo shows Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaking at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File

WASHINGTON While his colleagues got ready to go to the Capitol, Justice Antonin Scalia sat on a stage across town and held forth about why, for the 16th consecutive year, he would not be joining them for the State of the Union.

He doesn't go when a Democrat is president. He stays away when the president is Republican.

"It has turned into a childish spectacle. I don't want to be there to lend dignity to it," Scalia said, with a certain amount of mischief.

The 76-year-old justice has previously made clear his disdain for the event, but Tuesday may have been the first time he did so at nearly the same time as the speech.

The occasion was a talk sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates and moderated by National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg, one of many public appearances by the justices during their winter recess. They will meet in private on Friday and return to the bench on Tuesday.

Lest anyone think the timing of his talk was anything other than a coincidence, Scalia tried to put those thoughts to rest.

"I didn't set this up tonight just to upstage the president," he said. "The State of the Union is not something I mark on my calendar, like Easter or Yom Kippur."

Scalia said the justices in attendance inevitably keep their eyes on the chief justice, who decides when it is appropriate to applaud.

If the president says the United States is a great country, clap away, he said. But no justice can clap "if it's anything anybody can disagree with," Scalia said.

Prodded by Totenberg, Scalia also commented on the hunting ability of Justice Elena Kagan, who has joined Scalia to shoot quail, pheasant and larger animals.

Last year, on a trip to Wyoming, they had a license to go after antelope and mule deer. But there were none to be found.

Instead, "she ended up killing a white-tailed doe, which she could have done in my driveway" in suburban Virginia, Scalia said.

He said Kagan, who never handled a gun before joining the court, is just a beginner, but "she dropped that doe in just one shot."