Justice Warns Against Civil Rights Apathy

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Thursday that people concerned about losing freedom to government anti-terrorism efforts should speak out.

The Supreme Court is taking up several terror-related cases this spring, including challenges to the government detention of terror suspects without legal rights.

Ginsburg, speaking to a group of women’s rights lawyers, was asked if people’s rights were in danger.

“On important issues, like the balance between liberty and security, if the public doesn’t care, then the security side is going to overweigh the other,” she said.

That would change, Ginsburg said, “if people come forward and say we are proud to live in the USA, a land that has been more free, and we want to keep it that way.”

I certainly don’t disagree with any of this. Of course, the trade-off between liberty and security has been perhaps the fundamental issue of politics going back to Plato’s time.

What’s interesting to me, though, is that Ginsburg seems to be defying the tradition that sitting justices don’t speak publically on issues before the Court. She’ll certainly be deciding cases on the Patriot Act and similar issues soon. I don’t find this problematic–the idea that Justices don’t bring their ideology with them to the bench has always been a sham–but it is at least noteworthy, especially given the recent controversies over Justice Scalia’s impartiality.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Terrorism, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mark says:

    If Scalia recused himself over the pledge case, then I see no reason why we do not treat Ginsburg with the same scrutiny.

  2. Mithras says:

    Ginsburg was not commenting on a particular case before the court, or even a hypothetical case. She was saying that the Court only does so much to protect civil liberties, and the people’s elected representatives do much more to protect the rights of the people. So, if the people don’t care, then “the security side is going to overweigh the other.” This is a pretty obvious observation and one that recognizes the limits of the Court’s power. There’s nothing here to suggest that Ginsburg will vote one way or another in a particular case, which was not true with Scalia.

  3. Leathan Lund says:

    Ginsburg is the picture perfect example of an activist judge. It’s obvious from the quote above that Ginsburg doesn’t like the Patriot act and that it’s a safe bet she’ll decide the Act is unconstitutional if she’s ever given the chance.

  4. Mithras says:

    This is an example of how some people can’t hear a perfectly sane message like “The people guard their own liberty” because they dislike the speaker.