"I wonder if Sandra regrets stepping down when she did?"
That rhetorical question, posed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in an interview with Reuters last week, says it all. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, of course, retired back in 2007 in order to care for her ailing husband, who passed away two years later. Since then, she has kept busy by filling in at the Circuit Court of Appeals level, giving public lectures, and advocating for judicial appointments rather than elections.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, meantime, has become the leading liberal, and vociferous voice of dissent, on a conservative-dominated Supreme Court. This term alone, she read three dissents aloud from the bench and urged Congress to go around the Supreme Court majority's holding in one of the cases.
As her legacy and influence continue to grow, it's not a wonder that she has no intention of stepping down, despite being the Court's eldest justice at 80 years of age, and despite a handful of health scares in recent years (two incidents of broken ribs, and a second cancer scare in 2009).
As Justice Ginsburg herself noted in the interview, "It really has to be, 'Am I equipped to do the job?' ... I was so pleased that this year I couldn't see that I was slipping in any respect."
We couldn't agree more. Whether you agree or disagree with her stance on divisive legal (and political) issues, such as her passionate dissent in this term's voting rights case, any fair-minded reader would have to admit that she's still at the top of her game, and her opinions are typically far more enjoyable to read through than those written by some of the other justices.
Still, thanks to the political nature of Supreme Court appointments, there is a rising chorus of liberal voices hinting that her time to step down may be approaching soon. Harvard University law professor Randall Kennedy told Reuters that he thinks it would be the "responsible thing" for her to step aside while President Barack Obama is still in the White House.
The argument has merit, from a political balance standpoint. After all, one only has to look at the appointment of her contemporary, Justice Clarence Thomas, for a prime example.
When the late Justice Thurgood Marshall's health began to fail him, he stepped down in the midst of a Republican presidency. His replacement was Justice Thomas, who may just be his polar opposite, jurisprudence-wise.
One might also look at Justice O'Connor's retirement. Her replacement was the extremely conservative Justice Samuel Alito Jr. While O'Connor herself was a Republican appointee, her middle-of-the-road, consensus-seeking stance varies greatly from that of her replacement. The Washington Post noted at the time of Alito's nomination that, on at least a few occasions, O'Connor herself had voted to overturn Third Circuit decisions in which Alito had played a part.
Politics of appointments aside, we hope Justice Ginsburg achieves her recently-stated goal of lasting on the Court until at least the age of 90 (or the year 2023) -- much like Justice John Paul Stevens who retired in 2010 at age 90, after nearly 35 years on the bench.
- 5 Things About Justice Ginsburg (That You Might Not Know) (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- Happy Birthday, RBG! 8 Reasons to Celebrate Justice Ginsburg (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)
- Justice Ginsburg Joins Supreme Court Bobblehead Club (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)