A branch of government was missing from the most recent State of the Union Address. Customarily, the entire Supreme Court, gowns and all, is announced and marches into the House of Representatives chamber to hear the president declaim. On occasion, one or more of the justices play hooky. This year, when President Clinton spoke, not one justice showed up.

Was this simply a coincidence of bad scheduling? Or were the justices making a statement about the tradition of attendance by their nonattendance? And does the failure to make a symbolic act on a symbolic occasion matter?