Three Supreme Court justices skip Biden inauguration due to coronavirus concerns

Joe Biden takes the oath of office from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as his wife Jill holds the Bible on Wednesday
Joe Biden takes the presidential oath of office from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. with his hand on a Bible held by his wife Dr. Jill Biden on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court’s three oldest justices did not attend the Biden inauguration due to concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, 82; Clarence Thomas, 72, and Samuel A. Alito Jr., 70, did not join their colleagues at the Capitol for the historic day.

“They elected not to attend the inauguration ceremony in light of the public health risks posed by the COVID pandemic,” said Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg in an email.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. carried out his duty of administering the oath of office to President Biden. Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered the oath to Vice President Kamala Harris.

After half a century as a senator and vice president, Biden assumes the presidency at a time when the country faces health, economic and societal crises.


All nine Supreme Court justices typically attend inaugurations, sitting behind the outgoing administration members. Several have opted out of attending past presidents’ annual State of the Union speeches. Notably, former President Trump also opted not to attend the inauguration.

Joe Biden is inaugurated hours after his predecessor leaves the White House, clearing the way for a beleaguered nation to turn the page on one of the most divisive chapters in its political history.

The Supreme Court building has been closed to the public for months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The court also put a hold on receiving paper documents at the court for the last five days, “in light of security measures being implemented in connection with the upcoming Inauguration,” according to the court website.