Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fierce 35-page dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby wasn’t her last word on the case. In an interview with Katie Couric on Yahoo News, the justice agreed that the decision, which allowed private companies to refuse birth control coverage to their employees based on the employer’s beliefs, revealed a “blind spot” on women’s rights.
“I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow,” Ginsburg said.
She said the five male justices in the majority had “the same kind of blind spot that the majority had in Lilly Ledbetter’s case,” referring to a case in which the majority narrowed women’s ability to sue for pay discrimination, even if she didn’t know she was being discriminated against. Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama, in response to Ginsburg’s furious dissent.
On the Hobby Lobby owners’ religious liberty claims, Ginsburg said, “I certainly respect the belief of the Hobby Lobby owners. On the other hand, they have no constitutional right to foist that belief on the hundreds and hundreds of women who work for them who don’t share that belief.” She added, “When you’re part of a society, you can’t separate yourself from the obligations that citizens have.”
She also firmly located the issue in the realm of women’s rights: “Contraceptive protection is something every woman must have access to control her own destiny,” Ginsburg said.
Ginsburg also reflected on the court moving to the right, noting that former Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter were “born and bred Republicans” who often joined with Democratic appointees on some hot-button issues. She didn’t mention that their inclination to do so made the right even more insistent that George W. Bush appoint reliable conservatives; in Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, they appear to have mostly gotten their wish.
Some liberals have urged the 81-year-old justice to retire so that President Barack Obama can appoint a replacement before the possible election of a Republican in 2016.
“All I can say is that I am still here and likely to remain for a while,” Ginsburg told Couric. “I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam. When I feel myself slipping, when I can no longer think as sharply, write as quickly, that will be the time for me to leave the court.”
She also weighed in on the debate over work-life balance. “I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his,” Ginsburg said of her husband, now deceased. “And I think that made all the difference for me, and Marty was an unusual man. In fact, he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain.” Referring to the cliche of whether women could “have it all,” Ginsburg said, “Who — man or woman — has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it.”
Ginsburg also tipped her hat to her Internet stardom, including the “Notorious R.B.G” Tumblr page which depicts her in the swaggering vein of a rapper. “I haven’t seen anything that isn’t either pleasing or funny on that website,” Ginsburg said, who said her children and grandchildren also enjoyed it. “I will admit I had to be told by my law clerks … what’s this Notorious? And they explained that to me.”
Asked about her legacy, Ginsburg said, “In my life, what I find most satisfying is that I was part of a movement that made life better, not just for women – I think gender discrimination is bad for everyone. It’s bad for men, it’s bad for children. Having the opportunity to be part of that change is tremendously satisfying. I think of how the constitution begins – ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a perfect union.’ But we’re still striving for that more perfect union. And one of the perfections is for ‘we the people’ to include an ever enlarged group.”