Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Male Justices Can Live and Learn

“I have no doubt that if the Court had been composed of nine women the result would have been different in Hobby Lobby.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attends California first lady Maria Shriver's annual Women's Conference 2010 on October 26, 2010 at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California.
National Journal
Lucia Graves
Aug. 1, 2014, 6:30 a.m.

U.S. Su­preme Court Justice Ruth Bader Gins­burg has been mak­ing the me­dia rounds and the In­ter­net is eat­ing it up. After telling Ya­hoo News the five men on the Court have a “blind spot” when it comes to dis­crim­in­a­tion against wo­men, she turned around and told the As­so­ci­ated Press they’ll just have to live and learn.

The five con­ser­vat­ive justices re­cently ruled in Bur­well v. Hobby Lobby Stores that closely held for-profit com­pan­ies may re­fuse to cov­er wo­men’s con­tra­cept­ives for re­li­gious reas­ons. Gins­burg was joined by the two oth­er wo­men on the Court as well as lib­er­al Justice Steph­en Brey­er in a dis­sent­ing opin­ion, which held that leav­ing it to com­pan­ies to de­cide what sorts of health cov­er­age a wo­man may use amoun­ted to a form of dis­crim­in­a­tion.

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Asked about the de­cision by the AP on Thursday, Gins­burg sug­ges­ted the five male justices simply didn’t know bet­ter. “I have no doubt that if the Court had been com­posed of nine wo­men the res­ult would have been dif­fer­ent in Hobby Lobby,” she said. But, she ad­ded, she hasn’t en­tirely lost hope for the men in the Court’s ma­jor­ity opin­ion: “As long as one lives, one can learn.”

The 81-year-old justice, who’s faced spec­u­la­tion about wheth­er she’ll re­tire, ap­pears to be sug­gest­ing she may have a thing or two on her young­er coun­ter­parts. Asked Thursday by Ya­hoo News wheth­er she might re­tire in time for Pres­id­ent Obama to ap­point a like-minded suc­cessor, she re­spon­ded that she’s not go­ing any­where. “My an­swer is, I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam.”

She also took on the age crit­ics again in her in­ter­view with the AP: “So who do you think could be nom­in­ated now that would get through the Sen­ate that you would rather see on the Court than me?” Gins­burg was first nom­in­ated by Pres­id­ent Clin­ton and has served on the high court since 1993. “Right now,” she ad­ded, “I don’t see any sign that I’m less able to do the job.”

Gins­burg went on to dis­cuss the Court’s rul­ing on gay mar­riage, say­ing the Court won’t “duck” a de­cision there again.

Gins­burg has been wary in the past about be­ing too far ahead of the coun­try on ma­jor so­cial is­sues. But Amer­ic­ans’ opin­ions on gay mar­riage have changed dra­mat­ic­ally in re­cent years. Same-sex mar­riage is now leg­al in 19 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia.

“I think the Court will not do what they did in the old days when they con­tinu­ally ducked the is­sue of mis­ce­gen­a­tion,” Gins­burg said in ref­er­ence to bans on in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage, which were not struck down by the Su­preme Court un­til 1967. “If a case is prop­erly be­fore the Court, they will take it.”

Gins­burg was in the ma­jor­ity opin­ion that struck down part of the an­ti­gay De­fense of Mar­riage Act in June of 2013. She also ruled in the ma­jor­ity that de­clined to rule on Cali­for­nia’s Prop 8, which defined mar­riage as between a man and a wo­man. (Since then, same-sex uni­ons have re­sumed in Cali­for­nia.)

After ap­peals courts in Den­ver and Rich­mond, Va., up­held lower-court rul­ings strik­ing down state con­sti­tu­tion­al bans on gay mar­riage, the is­sue may be headed back to the Su­preme Court in the com­ing months.

Wherever her col­leagues stand on the is­sue, Gins­burg in­tends to be a vig­or­ous voice in that de­bate. “All I can say is that I am still here,” she told Ya­hoo News, “and likely to re­main for a while.”

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