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August 25, 2013 7:39 AM Justice Ginsburg grants NYT interview; slams court as “one of the most activist” in history

By Kathleen Geier

Today’s New York Times features a very interesting interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Interviews with sitting justices are relatively rare, particularly ones in which a justice speaks so openly about specific judicial decisions. In the wake of the court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act last term, it can hardly be an accident that this one is running during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

In the interview, which was done in her chambers with the Times’ Adam Liptak, Ginsburg is especially critical of the court’s voting rights ruling:

The flaw in the court’s decision, she said, was to conclude from the nation’s progress in protecting minority voters that the law was no longer needed. She repeated a line from her dissent: “It is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Liptak notes that the decision “invited Congress to enact new legislation” but that Justice Ginsburg “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.”

She also regrets that Congress is unlikely to pass legislation to overturn the court’s two awful Title VII (employment discrimination) rulings.

The interview also touches on other issues. Ginsburg contends, as she has previously, that the court moved too fast with its Roe v. Wade decision. Scott Lemieux, among others, has argued that she’s wrong here, and I think he has the better of the argument.

Looming over the interview is the subject of Ginsburg’s retirement. The 80-year old cancer survivor makes it clear she doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon. She says she will stay on, in her words, “as long as I can do the job full steam, and that, at my age, is not predictable.”

Justice Ginsburg works out with a trainer twice a week and according to Liptak, “her doctors say she is in fine health.” He also says that the justice’s “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.”

Ginbsurg’s agenda in this interview seems twofold. First, it seems to be a reaction to calls from some liberals that she step down and let President Obama appoint a successor. Secondly, she appears to be genuinely worried about the radical turn the court is taking. Supreme Court justices do not generally make public criticisms of the courts they sit on (outside of written decisions and dissents). But as she says, “this is one of the most activist courts in history.” She seems to be signaling that something dangerous is going on here, and that we should be alarmed.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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