U.S. Supreme Court associate justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s
tenure has been marked by her outspoken and articulate
liberalism. She is now 81 years old, and in remission from a
bout with cancer. Everyone I know, whether they agree with
her views or not, hope that she remains in remission and
continues to have a long and productive life.
Curiously, but perhaps not surprisingly, many of her strongest
supporters are now openly calling for her to resign from the
court. Their motive is not a mystery. Sensing an end to
Democratic Party dominance of the federal executive branch
and the U.S. senate, these “friends of Ruth” want her out of the
way as soon as possible so that President Obama could
nominate a younger liberal to take her place before a
conservative senate could block any nominee.
That’s not only impatience with Justice Ginsburg, it is perhaps
also a note of a “no confidence” in the probability that Hillary
Clinton will succeed Mr. Obama in January, 2017. Mrs. Clinton’s
“inevitability” has begun to evaporate in recent months and
The call for Mrs. Ginsburg’s resignation is not unanimous
among her liberal admirers. Some others, mostly women, are
offended by the desire to get the associate justice out of the way.
They are suggesting that the decision, as it always has been in
the past, belongs only to the member of the court. Supreme
court justices, although a lifetime appointment, do not always
die in office. Some choose to retire because of age, infirmity or
incapacity. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is clearly in full charge of her
faculties, and has indicated she has no desire and no reason
For the record, I have often disagreed with her votes on the
court, but she has fairly earned her place in judicial history,
and I think she should serve as long as she feels she is able.
The notion that President Obama, now the champion of
“administrative law” (that is, assuming powers which are not
his under the Constitution) could force through a controversial
nominee to replace Mrs. Ginsburg today is dubious. Sixty
votes are still necessary to confirm a nominee to the supreme
court, and Mr. Obama’s presumptions of late may have
compromised his ability to pick another justice.
As Mrs. Ginsburg’s supporters point out, a choice to succeed
her might not be a woman, might not be as liberal (or as
articulate) as she has been, and might well weaken the liberal
minority now on the court.
There are now only four months to the election. The U.S. senate
will be in recess much of this time to enable incumbents to
campaign for re-election. A “lame-duck” session might be
called after the election, but trying to force through something
as controversial as a supreme court confirmation, especially
if the electorate returns the Republicans to control in November,
is something the political leadership of the Democratic Party and
its presidential and future senate aspirants, eager to recover in 2016,
might not tolerate.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.