President Joe Biden will deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday. The annual speech brings together the three branches of government under one roof and allows the president to make the case that the nation is strong and that better days lie ahead.
The State of the Union is full of pomp and circumstance, with some traditions dating back to the nation's founding while others are more modern adaptions. One convention that receives plenty of attention is the seating chart. Who sits where is part custom and part political play.
Here's a breakdown of the seating in the gallery and where all the major players in Washington, D.C. will sit:
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President Biden will deliver his speech on the dais surrounded by every single member of Congress — except those who chose to skip the event in protest — the Supreme Court justices, his cabinet members, the joint chiefs of staff and the Capitol Hill press corps.
Behind the president on the left will be Vice President Kamala Harris and on the right, new GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wielding the gavel for the first time since stepping into the role.
Lawmakers are split in the gallery by party affiliation, with Republicans to the president's left and Democrats to Biden's right. Senators from each party get the front row seats and House lawmakers fill in the rows behind them.
Aside from reserved places for leadership, seats in the chamber are not assigned to members. However, they are allowed to claim a seat at any time during the day — as long they remain physically in the seat to hold their place for the speech. That means some lawmakers camp out in the aisle for hours a head of the address in order to retain the coveted aisle seat.
Supreme Court Justices
While the Constitution makes no mention of Supreme Court justices attending the State of the Union, most of the the justices have shown up in their official robes over the years and taken designated seats in front of the Democrats in the gallery. Chief Justice John Roberts said in a 2010 interview, whether to attend is “up to each individual member of the Court.” Justice Samuel Alito hasn’t attended a State of the Union since 2010 and the late Justice Antonin Scalia stopped going in 1997 after deciding it was a "childish spectacle."
Across the aisle from the high court's justices is President Biden's cabinet members. These include the heads of the 15 executive departments: the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.
Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the U.S. Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration.
First Lady and Guests
The first lady and the president's guests typically sit together in the box behind and above congressional Republicans. This year's list of guests include Rock star Bono, the 26-year-old who disarmed a gunman in last month's Monterey Park, California, shooting, and the family of Tyre Nichols.
The Capitol Hill press corps sit directly behind and above the president. They cannot see the president from the press gallery, but the vantage point offers them a view of the audience to gauge the reactions of members of Congress to the president's speech.