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Don’t Expect Ruth Bader Ginsburg To Retire While Donald Trump Is President

Ruth Bader GinsburgSupreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is making it clear she has no plans to retire from the Court at any point in the foreseeable future:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed on Friday that she does not plan on retiring anytime soon.

“My answer is as long as I can do the job full steam, I will do it,” Ginsburg said, receiving applause at an Equal Justice Works event.

“I used to have an answer, it worked for a lot of years. It was Justice Braindeis, when he was appointed he was the same age as I was, 60. And he stayed for 23 years, so I expect to stay at least as long. Well, now I’ve passed Brandeis, I’ve passed Frankfurter,” she said.
Ginsburg, 84, has served on the Supreme Court for 24 years.

She is seen as an icon among liberals, who have expressed hope she will stay on the court for the duration of the Trump administration.

Ginsburg has been on the Court for twenty-four years now, and while this is a long time, she is currently ranked 28th on a list of the longest-serving Supreme Court Justices, with two of her colleagues, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, ahead of her on the list. At eighty-four though she is the oldest Justice on the Court, and staying on until the hypothetical end of Trump’s first term in office would make her eighty-eight, just two years short of the ninety years that Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was when he retired. Were Trump to be re-elected and Ginsburg decided to hold on to her seat as long as possible, she would be well over ninety by the time 2025 came around. While one wishes all the best the Justice Ginsburg, there does seem to be something slightly absurd with the idea of someone in the nineties serving on the nation’s highest court for what are obviously political reasons.

Clearly, at least part of the reason for Ginsburg’s decision to stay on the Court for the time being is the identity of the President. Prior to the election, Ginsburg had some rather negative things to say about Trump the candidate. In July of last year, for example, Ginsburg was quoted as saying she couldn’t imagine what kind of place the country would be if Trump became President. As I noted at the time, these sharply political comments from a sitting Supreme Court Justice raised serious questions about judicial ethics. Ginsburg ultimately ended up apologizing for those comments, but they were on the record and they make it clear that Ginsburg is unlikely to give Trump the satisfaction of appointing her successor, at least not if she has anything to say about it.

At the same time, she has also hinted many times in the run-up to the 2016 campaign that she believed, as most of us did, that Hillary Clinton would be elected President. Had that happened, I suspect that we would have seen a retirement by Ginsburg at some point during Clinton’s first term, although the timing of that resignation likely would have depended on several factors including Ginsburg’s own health and her personal desires, and the question of who would have controlled the Senate in such a hypothetical world. As long as Trump is President, though, it’s unlikely that Ginsburg is going to leave the Court voluntarily if she can help it.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I wish her a long(er) life, but, given the apparent fragility of her health, her plan may not be a realistic one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  2. @CSK:

    There’s no evidence her health is “fragile,” except perhaps in the minds of conservatives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  3. Teve tory says:

    If Ginsburg retires in the next 1-2 years, abortion will go from being safe and legal, to unsafe, illegal, and likely involving dangerous black market pills bought on the internet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  4. CSK says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Well, a bout with pancreatic cancer and heart surgery are debilitating.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    You can have her seat when you pry it from her cold dead hands.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. joe dokes says:

    @Doug Mataconis: She only has to make it until January 1, 2020. No Supreme Court appointments in a presidential election year, unless McConnell is a lying hack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  7. Moosebreath says:

    @joe dokes:

    “unless McConnell is a lying hack.”

    Given the games Republicans have played with blue slips, what on earth makes you think McConnell won’t find a reason to say his prior comments are no longer operable?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  8. @CSK:

    Its been eight years since she was treated for cancer and by all accounts she beat it quite well.

    Additionally, her heart surgery was three years ago and was to place a stent in, which is not an uncommon procedure these days.

    Despite your rather obvious ghoulish delight in the idea that she’s on death’s doorstep, there’s no evidence of that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  9. @Moosebreath:

    What’s wrong with eliminating blue slips?

    The idea that a single Senator can hold up a judicial nomination is absurd.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. CSK says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    “Ghoulish delight”??? What an extraordinarily over-the-top response.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  11. MBunge says:

    Anybody remember when there was talk that Ginsberg should step down and let Obama appoint her replacement? It didn’t happen but not because Republicans said they wouldn’t let Obama do it. It was liberals who rose up and insisted no one take away their beloved internet meme. And that was when everyone thought if the GOP won in 2016 it would be somebody like Jeb Bush.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  12. Moosebreath says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    “What’s wrong with eliminating blue slips?”

    Nothing is wrong with eliminating blue slips. Nothing is wrong with keeping blue slips.

    Everything is wrong in saying blue slips need to be respected when your side is in the minority, and do not need to be respected when your side is in the majority.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  13. @CSK:

    Given that you jumped immediately on the false claims about Ginsburg’s “fragile” health it seems rather apparent where your hopes lie.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  14. @Moosebreath:

    Hypocrisy in politics? Next thing you’ll tell me is that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

    Given that it was Democrats who began all of this when Harry Reid and Senate Democrats eliminated the filibuster for most judicial nominees and all Executive Branch appointments, I’d say the hypocrisy runs both ways (as is typically the case in politics).

    In any case, with no filibuster in place for nominees below the Supreme Court level for four years now there’s no reason to keep the Blue Slips around and as I noted in my post about this in September and the entire “blue slip” thing is not a long-standing Senate tradition in any case.

    Also, if they are eliminated, the only way they could be reimposed is if the Democrats decided to do so when and if they regain control of the Senate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Paul L. says:

    If Obama’s Supreme court seat was not stolen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 4 progressive Justices could have declared The Electoral College not part of the Constitution as the Democrats believe.
    “The Electoral College is not a creation of the Constitution. It doesn’t have to be there.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  16. teve tory says:

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 4 progressive Justices could have declared The Electoral College not part of the Constitution as the Democrats believe.

    You’re either dishonest or dumb.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  17. george says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Age 84 is in itself fragile.

    Having said that, if she didn’t retire while Obama was in office, its extremely odd for anyone to think she’d retire with Trump in office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. An Interested Party says:

    While one wishes all the best the Justice Ginsburg, there does seem to be something slightly absurd with the idea of someone in the nineties serving on the nation’s highest court for what are obviously political reasons.

    Uh-huh…meanwhile, it was completely absurd what Republicans did after the death of Scalia for obvious political reasons…

    It didn’t happen but not because Republicans said they wouldn’t let Obama do it.

    Oh please…Republicans have shown that they will play completely dirty when it comes to the Supreme Court so she probably did the right thing by staying…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  19. Rick Zhang says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Again with the fixation on moral equivalence. I think over the past 2 decades that I’ve been following politics, I’ve noticed that Republicans are far more cunning/crafty at twisting the rules of politics to benefit them. As is the case with stereotypes of leftists being more numerous but idealist and divided, and the right being more disciplined and unified due to fear of the other.

    Take the following situations:
    1. Democrats are better at adhering to generally accepted morals and ethics (in terms of # of scandals). See: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/1/11/1619079/-Comparing-Presidential-Administrations-by-Arrests-and-Convictions-A-Warning-for-Trump-Appointees
    and:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/04/10/how-republican-and-democratic-sex-scandals-differ/?utm_term=.7cdd23409a6f, especially the # of sex scandals by decade.

    2. Effectiveness at gerrymandering, including a concerted plan to win governorships and statehouses with the intent of imposing such an extreme gerrymandering that the end result of a state’s congressional representation doesn’t bear any resemblance to the statewide popular vote. Yes this is one example of both parties do it but one is far better at doing it, and the whole act is detrimental to society/democracy.
    See: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/10/gerrymandering-technology-redmap-2020/543888/

    3. Voter suppression – a far greater problem than voter fraud – as evidenced by Wisconsin. See: https://www.thenation.com/article/wisconsins-voter-id-law-suppressed-200000-votes-trump-won-by-23000/
    Dems don’t really do anything equivalent to this.

    For the above you have to ask yourself, how would you design a society/democracy under the veil of ignorance? If you are morally flexible and highly partisan, you would excuse corruption, scandals, and even extrajudicial killing (e.g. as Trump boasted he could do in NY) as long as it’s your “side” doing it. If on the other hand you’re genuinely interested in fair rules of play, you would focus on fixing the above. Right now it’s clear that one party simply doesn’t care how bad they act as long as they win.

    I admit the debate over the Supreme Court is a constantly evolving attempt to one up the other that may lead to something productive – straight up and down votes. I fully expect Democrats to not reinstate blue slips and to instead revoke the filibuster over all judicial nominees, not just Supreme Court ones. That does, as you said, lead to a better and more fair outcome overall, assuming we fix the unrepresentative Congress and Electoral College.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. wr says:

    @MBunge: “It was liberals who rose up and insisted no one take away their beloved internet meme. ”

    Um, no. It was Justice Ginsburg, who chose not to retire. All your little straw liberals had nothing to do with anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. Rick,

    And yet it remains true that the beginning of the end of the filibuster for nominations started with Harry Reid and the Democrats in November 2013. The fact that McConnell and Republicans took it to its logical conclusion earlier this year should have come as a surprise to no one, and the complaints from the left when he did it when they had cheered the exact same move by the Democrats just over two years earlier is just another example of the rank hypocrisy that defines partisan politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. CSK says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    How you extrapolate “ghoulish delight” (and right-wing political sympathies) from an observation that an 84-year-old individual with a history of pancreatic cancer and heart disease might not have the physical ability to sustain four more years in public service, regardless of what her wishes might be, escapes me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  23. Gustopher says:

    A whole lot of the Supreme Court has reached an age where sudden demise is entirely plausible.

    Even Neil Gorsuch could keel over dead from a sudden heart attack in the next few years — the odds are better for him than the rest, but seemingly fit 50 year old men drop dead all the time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Kylopod says:

    @MBunge:

    Anybody remember when there was talk that Ginsberg should step down and let Obama appoint her replacement? It didn’t happen but not because Republicans said they wouldn’t let Obama do it. It was liberals who rose up and insisted no one take away their beloved internet meme.

    A walk down memory lane…

    OTB, July 2013: “Liberal leaders want Ruth Bader Ginsburg to retire so President Obama can appoint her successor. She wants to hang around another decade.”

    OTB, Aug 2013: “Several times over the past few years, liberal commentators have suggested, none too quietly in some cases, that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg step down so that President Obama would have the ability to appoint a successor. Given that Ginsburg is among the oldest members of the Court along with being the intellectual leader of the Court’s liberal wing, these people have argued, she should step aside to allow a younger liberal to take her place rather than risk being forced to retire when a Republican is President. Each time, Justice Ginsburg has batted down these suggestions.”

    OTB, Jul 2014: “Liberals Still Think They Can Guilt Trip Ruth Bader Ginsburg Into Retirement…. With the end of another Supreme Court term and the growing possibility that Republicans will gain control of the Senate in November, and possibly even the Presidency in 2016, people on the left are once again fretting over the fact that Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not retiring.”

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/liberals-still-think-they-can-guilt-trip-ruth-bader-ginsburg-into-retirement/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @Doug Mataconis:

    Except that she’s already had heart surgery and a bout with cancer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. TIM says:

    SHE NEEDS TO GO NOW. SHE ALREADY APPEARS TO BE SENILE.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1