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There appears to be no war on Christmas at the Supreme Court. President George W. Bush and other federal officials have been criticized in recent weeks for not using the word “Christmas” in greeting cards or in describing parties or other traditional December events. But at the Supreme Court, employees were invited to the annual “Christmas Recess Party,” set for today. At the party in the Great Hall of the Court, attendees will see a majestic fir that is decorated and unabashedly called a Christmas tree. This is nothing new at the Court, where the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist almost defiantly insisted on describing the Court’s annual holiday gathering as a Christmas party. In 1988, as revealed by a file in the papers of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, a group of law clerks petitioned Rehnquist citing their “concern about the Court’s celebration of Christmas.” The clerks objected to the Christmas tree itself, as well as the Christmas party where Christmas carols are sung. Noting that “some of us do not object at all to these observances,” the clerks said that “all of us are concerned that members of the public, as well as Court employees, may be offended by them.” The clerks requested a meeting with Rehnquist to discuss the matter. Marshall’s papers indicated no reply from Rehnquist, but the party proceeded as it has every year since. As he apparently did every year, Marshall sent a note to Rehnquist declining the invitation: “As usual, I will not participate. I still prefer to keep church and state apart.” But Rehnquist died in September, and there was some suspense about whether his successor, John Roberts Jr., would tinker with the tone or content of the party. As far as could be determined in advance, Roberts has apparently taken the “stare decisis” approach, following the precedent set by his predecessor. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in a Nov. 29 release listed the high court’s continued practice of displaying a Christmas tree as one of several “good indicators that popular resistance to the grinches is having an impact.” But one slight change might be under way. Rehnquist, a devoted fan of vocal music, always admonished attendees to “come to the party with your best singing voice.” Other justices would joke that if they did not sing along at the Christmas party, Rehnquist would assign them dull cases to write. Roberts, apparently, did not order attendees to bring their singing voices Friday, though it is still possible songs will be sung. Roberts is said to have a good voice, but he may be more shy about singing in front of a crowd than Rehnquist, who belted out the carols in all their verses.

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