US Supreme Court justices are appointed to the highest court in the land for life. There Is no mandatory retirement age. But I would suggest it is time for 83-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg to hang up her robe.
We should all take a moment to acknowledge her long and spectacular legal career. Ginsburg has been a true liberal champion for laws concerning women’s and voter’s rights, racial justice and she has long been a proponent of affirmative action programs in higher education.
But now as she enters her 23rd year on the US Supreme Court she has called into question her own impartiality….
Not once or twice but several times over the last few months. The latest instance arose as she sat down for interviews promoting her new book, “My Own Words,” a collection of her legal writings and public speeches.
It’s not like Justice Ginsburg was speaking to some obscure law school newspaper reporter. No, she has granted interviews to major newspapers, the Associated Press and CNN. She had to have understood that a rare interview with a US Supreme Court Justice would make news.
Most recently Justice Ginsburg, the court’s oldest member, commented on the controversy surrounding San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem.
“I think it’s a terrible thing to do,’ she said. “I think it’s dumb and disrespectful,” and she compared Kaepernick’s field-side bended knee to the act of burning the American flag. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No… If they want to be stupid, there is no law that should be preventative,” she said.
Kaepernick, as most know, has been protesting the numerous police shootings of unarmed black men across America by refusing to stand and honor the country’s anthem. Reached for comment Kaepernick said simply that it was, “Disappointing to hear a Supreme Court justice call a protest against injustice and oppression ‘stupid (and) dumb.’”
Several days later Ginsburg issued an apology for her comments confessing she knew little about the circumstances of Kaepernick’s protest.
You’d think Justice Ginsburg would have learned her lesson. Back in July, she made news when she broke the age-old taboo against judges offering personal opinions, especially political opinions.
Asked by the Associated Press about the possibility of Donald Trump winning the White House and what that might mean for future Supreme Court nominees Ginsburg answered, “I don’t want to think about that possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs.”
Two days later she was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I can’t imagine what the country would be with Donald Trump as our president.” Again addressing what it would mean for the high court she said, “For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be – I don’t even want to contemplate that.” And she added that if her husband were still alive he would say of a Trump presidency, “It’s time for us to move to New Zealand.”
Three days later, Justice Ginsburg told CNN she thought Trump was a “faker … (who) has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment.” Ginsburg, apparently unaware that she had been saying whatever came into her head about the Republican candidate, also criticized the media for not demanding more forcefully that Trump release his income tax returns.
She is not alone in that belief but here’s the problem with all her public pronouncements: They reveal Justice Ginsburg’s bias. Judges are supposed to be solely guided by the law, not personal opinion. That’s why you very rarely hear a judge discuss current events.
What if the outcome of this year’s presidential election is suddenly in dispute like the 2000 G.W. Bush vs Al Gore contest? Back then the U.S. Supreme Court was called upon to make the final, crucial ruling about whether to go ahead with or stop the Florida recount.
Does anyone doubt that Trump, who’s made a habit of calling our elections “rigged,” will launch another Gore-like challenge if he loses by a close margin? Then what will Justice Ginsburg do? Now that the country knows her anti-Trump stance she should, at the very least, recuse herself from any case involving the presidential election.
Whomever the next president might be she or he will likely be called upon to fill more than one high court vacancy. The death of justice Antonin Scalia has already left one open chair. Justice Clarence Thomas is 68. Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer are 78 and 80 years old, respectively.
At age 83, Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be encouraged to retire. Maybe a nice long trip to New Zealand is in order?