Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turned 83 in March, is already the oldest sitting justice on the high court, which naturally raises interest in her possible retirement plans. With this in mind, her comments to the Associated Press today were that much more notable.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she doesn’t want to think about the possibility of Donald Trump winning the White House, and she predicts the next president – “whoever she will be” – will have a few appointments to make to the Supreme Court.In an interview Thursday in her court office, the 83-year-old justice and leader of the court’s liberal wing said she presumes Democrat Hillary Clinton will be the next president. Asked what if Republican Donald Trump won instead, she said, “I don’t want to think about that possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs.”
Ginsburg added, smiling. “It’s likely that the next president, whoever she will be, will have a few appointments to make.”
Well, yes, it’s quite likely, indeed. There’s already one vacancy pending, and as we recently discussed, by Inauguration Day 2017, two justices – Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy – will be over the age of 80, well above the average retirement age for a justice (78.7). What’s more, Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78.2 years old on the next Inauguration Day, which means he’ll reach the average retirement age during the next president’s first year.
What’s particularly interesting about all of this, however, is the way in which Ginsburg approaches this issue: the celebrated jurist seems to realize she’s taking an enormous gamble with “everything” on the line.
Keep in mind, three years ago, asked about a possible successor on the court, Ginsburg said, “I think it’s going to be another Democratic president…. The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can’t get out the vote in the midterm elections.”
In context, she seemed to be making the case for a calculated bet: Ginsburg would stay on the bench, denying President Obama the opportunity to name her replacement, because she expected another Democrat to win the White House in 2016.
Ginsburg didn’t know at the time who the national candidates would be, though she now realizes that a Trump victory would put “everything … up for grabs.” I don’t think she means that in a good way.
We’ll learn in the fall whether Ginsburg’s gamble pays off, but I don’t blame her not wanting to “think about that possibility.” She could have retired a few years ago, but as we’ve discussed before, the justice instead decided to take an enormous risk – with the court’s future, with the nation’s future, with her own legacy.
If Trump wins in November, Ginsburg’s gamble will look like one of the worst bets in modern American history.