Starting with her first publication, an editorial for her elementary school newspaper in 1946, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has not hesitated to express her views to the world. Today she shared thoughts about her life, the law and the state of the country at an event highlighting her new book, “My Own Words,” a collection of her speeches and writings spanning 70 years. Ginsburg appeared with her contributing authors, Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams of Georgetown University Law Center. Nina Totenberg of NPR moderated the program, which was reportedly so popular that organizers had to move it to a larger auditorium.

Totenberg began with a question everyone in her office had insisted she ask: How are you feeling? Ginsburg reassured the receptive audience that she was “feeling just fine,” attributing her good health to hour-long, twice-weekly sessions with her personal trainer, who keeps her in shape with “something called a plank” and “very real” push-ups.

Asked about the Supreme Court nomination process that has now lasted for almost a year, Ginsburg remarked, “This is not the way it should be,” drawing an unfavorable contrast between the “fierce partisan divide” affecting Congress and the near-unanimous confirmations in fairly recent times, including hers and those of Justice Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. She then elaborated on the so-called “Ginsburg rule,” which some Senate Republicans have cited to justify nominees’ reticence when asked about their judicial philosophy. Ginsburg pointed out that she declined to answer questions only about cases that were either pending or “likely to come before the court,” and that she testified at length about the extensive paper trail left by her law review articles and 13-years-worth of opinions on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. “There was a lot to ask me,” she observed dryly.

Totenberg alluded to a recent interview in which Ginsburg opined that the United States was not “experiencing the best of times.” Ginsburg explained that, in her view, “we are not as mindful of what makes America great” – our “treasured First Amendment” and the idea that “in our nation we are many and yet we are one.” She stressed the pendulum shifts of history, and predicted that “we will preserve both of those – the right to think as we believe, not as Big Brother tells us,” and a commitment to “welcome our neighbors” and celebrate diversity. “That is America to me,” she concluded.

When Totenberg asked how she feels about having become a cultural icon in her 80s, Ginsburg appeared baffled but amused. She noted that the “Notorious RBG” meme took hold following her 2013 dissent in Shelby County v. Holder, a case that limited the reach of the Voting Rights Act, and that her favorite book about her is a children’s book called “I Dissent,” which teaches that “It’s okay to say no.” The idea that over time, a dissenting opinion can become a majority opinion, she explained, is the kind of thing that “makes me optimistic in the long run.”

Posted in What's Happening Now

Recommended Citation: Edith Roberts, Justice Ginsburg, in her own words, SCOTUSblog (Feb. 23, 2017, 6:16 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2017/02/justice-ginsburg-words/