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U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday the scene at President Barack Obama's first State of the Union address was "very troubling" and that the annual speech to Congress has "degenerated into a political pep rally."

Responding to a University of Alabama law student's question about the Senate's method of confirming justices, Roberts said senators improperly try to make political points by asking questions they know nominees can't answer because of judicial ethics rules.

"I think the process is broken down," he said.

Obama chided the court for its campaign finance decision during the January address, with six of the court's nine justices seated before him in their black robes.

Roberts said he wonders whether justices should attend the address.

"To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there," said Roberts, a Republican nominee who joined the court in 2005.

Roberts said anyone is free to criticize the court and that some have an obligation to do so because of their positions.

"So I have no problems with that," he said. "On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court — according the requirements of protocol — has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling."

Breaking from tradition, Obama used the speech to criticize the court's decision that allows corporations and unions to freely spend money to run political ads for or against specific candidates.


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