Ruth Bader Ginsburg is right: She shouldn't resign!

The liberal justice says she’s not going anywhere because she’s good at her job and Democrats will win in 2016

Published October 4, 2013 6:27PM (EDT)

  (AP/Matt Sayles)
(AP/Matt Sayles)

At the end of a politically gloomy week, this story made me smile. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg tells the Washington Post’s Robert Barnes that she has no plans to resign, because she’s still in top form at her job, and she thinks Democrats will keep the White House in 2016.

The profile is a delight; read the whole thing. The 80-year-old two-time cancer survivor lives as vitally as any 50-year-old, perhaps more so, partying and enjoying opera with her children and friends in Santa Fe. This was a nice touch:

The hostess, Winnie Klotz, a former dancer and for decades the photographer for the Metropolitan Opera, startles the gathering by grabbing her 84-year-old ankle and lifting it straight above her 84-year-old head. “Do I have your attention?” she asks. Apparently unsatisfied with the response, she slides into a split on the floor of Harry’s Roadhouse.

Ginsburg says later: “She does that all the time.”

You come away from the profile believing Ginsburg could lift her ankle over her head and do a split, too. Intellectually, anyway.

Of course smart liberals from Randall Kennedy to Jonathan Bernstein in Salon have urged her to retire and let Obama pick her successor. I’ve long defended Ginsburg’s right to make her own decision, mostly on empathy grounds: Who am I to tell someone she’s too old to do her job? But in a series of interviews, Ginsburg has won me over to her political point of view. “I think it’s going to be another Democratic president” in 2016, Ginsburg told Barnes. “The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can’t get out the vote in the midterm elections.”

She’s told other interviewers that she sees herself as a leader of the court’s liberal faction fighting “one of the most activist courts in history,” as she told the New York Times’ Adam Liptak. Indeed, during the last session, she read a series of dissents aloud. Her scathing dissent from the decision to gut the Voting Rights Act was unforgettable for its anger and wit. "[T]he Court's opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decision making. Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today's demolition of the VRA....Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

No doubt another reason Ginsburg is sticking around is that she knows it’s unlikely that Obama would appoint anyone as liberal as she is – indeed, his lower court appointments have mostly been moderates. In 2011 she told law students at Southern Methodist University that “today, my ACLU connection would disqualify me.” Elena Kagan is a decent liberal, but she's no Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Finally, she knows there’s no guarantee Obama could get a nominee confirmed, anyway. Earlier this year she told a lawyers conference in San Diego that the Senate is “destroying the United States’ reputation in the world as a beacon of democracy” by bottling up so many of Obama’s nominees, “and we should go back to the way it was, and the way it should be.” From Barnes’ profile we learn that the key to the door of her chambers is on a key ring that reads, “Best Wishes, Strom Thurmond.” The Dixiecrat turned Republican was one of 96 senators to confirm her.

The folks behind the Ruthbaderginsblog and the “Notorious RBG” Tumblr reflect the growing backlash to progressives, all of them men as far as I can tell, insisting Ginsburg should retire. Read the Barnes profile and you are likely to join the backlash. The court's next session opens Oct. 7, and I'm glad Ginsburg stuck around for it.

By Joan Walsh