Supreme feud

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg under fire for attacks on Trump

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, jokingly nicknamed “the Notorious RBG,” has been working to earn that moniker in earnest over the last week. In a series of interviews, the 83-year-old justice and feminist icon has spoken out in stark terms about her disdain for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. And her commentary has drawn criticism, predictably, from Donald Trump, who has called for her to apologize to her colleagues on the Supreme Court and for her to resign.

The backlash, though, has come from nearly all corners of the political world and culminated on Wednesday morning with the Editorial Board of The New York Times declaring in a headline “Donald Trump Is Right About Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg” and scolding the octogenarian justice for engaging in “political punditry” and “name-calling.” Yes, that’s how crazy 2016 has become. One Gray Lady is chastising another gray lady for sinking to the tactics of a school-aged child.

The imbroglio started last week when Ginsburg gave an interview to The Associated Press and basically said she thought the prospect of a Trump presidency was unthinkable, then seemed to endorse presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “I don’t want to think about that possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs,” she told the AP about a Trump victory, adding with a smile, “It’s likely that the next president, whoever she will be, will have a few appointments to make.”

On Sunday, Ginsburg’s attacks on Trump continued — and sharpened. In an interview with The New York Times, she said, “I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president.” She then joked that if her late husband were still alive he might’ve quipped, “It’s time for us to move to New Zealand.”

Ginsburg closed out the trifecta of jabs on Monday, in an interview with CNN, making clear her disapproval of Trump’s candidacy. She called Trump a “faker,” blasted the press for being too “gentle” on him for his refusal to release his tax returns, and took aim at his shape-shifting political positions. “He says whatever comes into his head at the moment,” Ginsburg said. “He really has an ego.”

Reaction from pundits and the political world to Ginsburg’s departure from traditional SCOTUS decorum built slowly with a few voices on the right, but has escalated into a full-blown chorus on both sides of the political spectrum. The Washington Post Editorial Board piled on with a column on Wednesday that denounced her comments as inappropriate, but admitted her remarks were accurate “on the merits.” The Post Editorial Board pointed out that her statements amounted to more than just a breach of tradition; they were a violation of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges. Canon 5 A of the code states that “a judge should not … publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office.” The basic reasoning behind that aspect of the code is for judges to maintain the appearance of impartiality, a quality Ginsburg’s critics say she’s endangered by speaking so candidly about a presumptive presidential nominee.

Some of her critics have gone much further. House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced her remarks as “inherently biased.” That’s to be expected in the heat of a bitter presidential race. Others, even some on the left, have suggested that should a Trump-related case come before the Supreme Court, particularly concerning the election results, these remarks are grounds for her to recuse herself from hearing it.

And Mark Joseph Stern, a legal columnist for Slate, went even further, describing her remarks as “unethical” and “dangerous.” He argued that speaking out in such candid terms about such an incendiary topic jeopardizes her legacy. But Stern, argued, she has an important reason for doing so. “The subtext of Ginsburg’s comments, of her willingness to comment,” Stern wrote, “is that Trump poses an unparalleled threat to this country — a threat so great that she will abandon judicial propriety in order to warn against looming disaster.”

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