Justice Ginsburg: Talking out of court

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
AFP/Getty Images/file 2009
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 80, apparently felt the sting of calls by fellow liberals for her to resign and let President Obama appoint a like-minded successor. This summer, she granted several interviews to show her vigor and determination, most recently telling The New York Times that the only changes in her lifestyle have been that “I don’t water-ski anymore” and “haven’t gone horseback riding in four years.” Health considerations, not political ones, will guide any retirement decision. “There will be a president after this one,” she said, “and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president.”

Like any other person who is proud of her work, Ginsburg is fully justified in taking exception to suggestions that she give it up for reasons of age alone. But her sense of offense would be more understandable were she not, in the rest of the Times interview, so outspoken about her role as a defender of liberal precedents.

She criticized the current court for overturning some longstanding precedents and expressed pleasure that her seniority now gives her first crack at writing dissents against the court’s conservative majority. She showed her frustration over the recent voting rights decision, and her pride in her role in promoting women’s rights. She also took a mild swipe at Justice Samuel Alito, who made a face when she read a particularly stinging dissent.


None of this was surprising to anyone who follows the court, but it continued a sad trend of justices going public with their political views and disagreements with colleagues. Conservative justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Alito are prime offenders, but Ginsburg, too, has hardly been reluctant to advertise her agenda. If she’s eager to be viewed as a liberal stalwart, however, she shouldn’t be surprised when those who applaud her stances express fear that, by staying in her job, she risks turning the seat over to a justice who doesn’t share her passions.