U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Michael A. Scarcella/ALM)

 

On a relatively quiet Sunday morning, the news exploded across social media: The U.S. Supreme Court would be dining with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, according to the White House weekly outlook.

By Monday morning, the dinner was off.

What happened? The White House blamed scheduling conflicts. “I think we’ve moved some things around on the president’s schedule this week, but we hope to have something at some point,” Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, told reporters on Monday. The dinner would be moved to a later date.

It doesn’t take much to get social media, uh, all a twitter. Mix Trump with Supreme Court in the current partisan climate and tweeters run wild. A debate unfolded on Twitter rooted in ethical questions about the dinner.

The Supreme Court, undoubtedly unwilling to touch this hot potato, was silent on the planned dinner date with the Donald. The court referred questions to the White House. By mid-afternoon Monday, the White House refined its menu of explanations for the canceled dinner. “There were preliminary discussions at a staff level, but no invitation was extended or accepted,” a White House aide told Politico.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, asked on Twitter: “Why would the Supreme Court agree to do this? I can think of no legitimate reason to dine with a litigant.”

Law professors weighed in, mostly to lower the temperature. Derek Muller of Pepperdine University School of Law offered a bit of history, a clipping from The New York Times from 1904. He wrote on Twitter: “Even a social faux pas wouldn’t keep Supreme Court justices from dinner hosted by Teddy Roosevelt 1904.”

The headline on the NYT clip: “Justices At White House Attend President’s Dinner Despite Trouble Over Precedence At Reception.”

Julie Silverbrook, executive director of The Constitutional Sources Project, set the social table with historical facts.

“Some questions were raised via social media regarding how often presidents have dined with Supreme Court justices in the past,” she wrote on her blog. “Some even suggested it was highly unusual. History proves the opposite. These dinners have been quite common since at least the 19th century.”

Among other small bites, she noted, via Smithsonian Magazine: “FDR dined with Supreme Court Justices just days before announcing his Court packing scheme and during a time when the Justices were hearing challenges to FDR’s New Deal agenda.” And: “In October 2008, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush hosted a dinner at the White House in honor of the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.”

A news reporter asked Spicer on Monday whether it was “unfortunate to sort of sweep the high court into the politics of 100 days?”

“No,” Spicer responded. “I think having a relationship and meeting with the Supreme Court at some point would be a great idea and something that we hope to have on the schedule some point soon.”