WASHINGTON — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 80, vowed in an interview to stay on the Supreme Court as long as her health and intellect remained strong, saying she was fully engaged in her work on what she called “one of the most activist courts in history.”
In wide-ranging remarks in her chambers Friday, the leader of the court’s liberal opposition touched on affirmative action, abortion, and same-sex marriage.
Ginsburg said she had made a mistake in joining a 2009 opinion that laid the groundwork for the court’s decision in June effectively striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The recent decision, she said, was “stunning in terms of activism.”
Unless they have a book to sell, Supreme Court justices rarely give interviews. Ginsburg has given several this summer, perhaps in reaction to calls from some liberals that she step down in time for President Obama to name her successor.
On Friday, she said repeatedly that the identity of the president who would appoint her replacement did not figure in her retirement planning.
“There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president,” she said.
Were Obama to name Ginsburg’s successor, it would presumably be a one-for-one liberal swap that would not alter the court’s ideological balance. But if a Republican president is elected in 2016 and gets to name her successor, the court would be fundamentally reshaped.
Hard at work
She has survived two bouts with cancer and her health is now good, she said, and her work ethic exceptional. There is no question, on the bench or in chambers, that she has full command of the complex legal issues that reach the court.
Her age has required only minor adjustments. “I don’t water ski anymore,” Ginsburg said. “I haven’t gone horseback riding in four years. I haven’t ruled that out entirely. But water skiing, those days are over.”
Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Clinton in 1993, said she intended to stay on the court “as long as I can do the job full steam and that, at my age, is not predictable.”
“I love my job,” she added. “I thought last year I did as well as in past terms.”
With the departure of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010, Ginsburg became the leader of the four-member liberal wing, a role she seems to enjoy. “I am now the most senior justice when we divide, 5 to 4, with the usual suspects,” she said.
The last two terms, which featured major decisions on Obama’s health care law, race, and same-sex marriage, were, she said, “heady, exhausting, challenging.”
She was especially critical of the voting rights decision and the part of the ruling upholding the health care law that nonetheless said it could not be justified under Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce.
In general, she said, “if it’s measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation, this is one of the most activist courts in history.”
The next term, which begins Oct. 7, is also likely to produce major decisions, she said, pointing at piles of briefs in cases concerning campaign contribution limits and affirmative action.
The recent voting rights decision, Shelby County v. Holder, also invited Congress to enact new legislation, but Ginsburg, who dissented, did not sound optimistic.
“The Voting Rights Act passed by overwhelming majorities,” she said of its reauthorization in 2006, “but this Congress I don’t think is equipped to do anything about it.”