Terence P. Jeffrey
In a major feature piece published this weekend, the Washington Post Magazine--with its eye on a closely divided Supreme Court and the end of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2016--asked Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she was going to get off the court and make room for Obama to appoint a younger liberal justice to replace her.
The piece, written by Washington Post Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes, made not-so-subtle references to Justice Ginsburg's "84-year-old ankle" and "84-year-old head."
“The court has four consistent liberals, including Ginsburg, and four consistent conservatives, and the justice in the middle, Anthony M. Kennedy, is a Ronald Reagan-nominee who more often than not sides with conservatives,” explained this piece in the Post's magazine. “If the court’s membership does not change before the 2016 election, the new president would see a Supreme Court with four of its nine members older than 77, including half of the liberal bloc.”
“The reality of the court, and the parties, these days is that Ginsburg ... should know that a justice selected by President Rubio or President Jindal or President Cruz is going to produce a very different nation than one selected by Barack Obama,” the Post quoted political scientist Jonathan Bernstein as having written in The Washington Post itself.
The Post then noted that Ginsburg has been stricken with cancer twice since she has served on the court.
“Ginsburg has appeared frail for years and battled cancer twice, early-stage colon cancer in 1999 and early-stage pancreatic cancer in 2009,” said the Post. “She moves slowly, often with her head down, and speaks deliberately, with pauses that leave listeners wondering if she has finished her thought.”
“And still, the question: When is it time to leave a lifetime appointment?” the Post asked Ginsburg.
“When I can’t do the job, there will be signs,” Ginsburg said. “I know that Justice [John Paul] Stevens [who retired when he was 90] was concerned the last few years about his hearing,” Ginsburg told the paper. “I’ve had no loss of hearing yet. But who knows when it could happen?
“So all I can say is what I’ve already said: At my age, you take it year by year,” said Ginsburg.
The Post also asked former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired seven years ago, whether Ginsburg should retire from the court. The paper seemed to think O’Connor’s views on the matter might have some influence on Ginsburg, whom the paper said has questioned whether O’Connor has regretted retiring. The Post was able to put that question to rest for the not-yet-retired-while-Obama-is-still-president Ginsburg.
“In interviews, Ginsburg has raised the question of whether O’Connor regrets her decision to leave the court in 2006, at age 75,” the Post said. “The nation’s first female justice, now 83, has hardly slowed down since leaving, serving on commissions, spearheading a national movement to revive civics education and continuing to serve on courts of appeals around the country.
“She retired when her husband, John O’Connor, was suffering from Alzheimer’s; he died in 2009,” said the Post.
“But O’Connor doesn’t look backward,” said the Post.
“I don’t regret it for a minute,” quote O’Connor saying about her retirement. “I felt in my case I’d had a fantastic experience, and my husband needed my care. For me, it was the time to do that.”
The title of the Post’s piece: “The question facing Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Stay or go?”
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