During an exclusive interview with MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, aired on The Rachel Maddow Show, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg discussed Roe v. Wade and why she believes it will be upheld and the state of race relations. Such interviews offer a rare insight into the innerworkings of a Supreme Court Justice’s mind and the Court itself. Perhaps the highlight of the interview came when Justice Ginsberg explained by she believes the Court will probably uphold Roe v. Wade.
From the interview, one can see that Justice Ginsburg remains a sharp legal mind, aware of the issues and who is affected by them.
. She continues to understand the political landscape in Congress but also within the Supreme Court. You see a woman who rose to every challenge she ever got, well except cooking. You also see a person with compassion, humor, a sense of purpose.
On women’s rights, Justice Ginsburg describes the 1970’s as a period of ending the close door area. Today’s challenge, of “unconscious bias” she says is more difficult. She tells the story of a symphony orchestra to illustrate the point.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: When I was growing up, one never saw a woman in the symphony orchestra, except perhaps playing the harp. People who should have known better like The New York Times critic, Howard Tau– Taubman said, “You could put a blindfold on him and he could tell you whether it’s a woman playing the piano or a man.”
Someone had the simple idea, “Let’s drop a curtain. Let’s drop a curtain between the people who are auditioning and the people who are judging.” And almost overnight, there was a sea change. Once the curtain was dropped, the testers couldn’t tell whether it was a man– or a woman. And they made their judgments based on the quality of the performance.
When the discussion turned to reproductive rights, Justice Ginsburg pointed to the fact that the Republican Party’s “pro life” agenda, in reality, only makes reproductive choice inaccessible to poor women.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: –Who does that hurt? It hurts women who lack the means to go someplace else. It’s almost like– remember the– oh, you wouldn’t remember, because you’re too young. But when most states allowed divorce on one grounds, adultery, nothing else. But there were people who went off to Nevada and stayed there for six weeks. And they got a divorce. That was available to people who had the means, first to get themselves to Nevada, second to stay there for some weeks.
The highlight of the interview occurred when Justice Ginsburg outlined the 3 factors that that she believes make it unlikely conservatives will overturn Roe v. Wade. First, Ginsburg says this court places a very high value on precedent. Second, when giving a chance at an earlier time, the court upheld the ruling and actually strengthened it. Finally, a woman’s right to make her own choices has become part of the culture. She drives the point home by recalling what former Chief Justice William Rehnquist did when the opportunity arose to overturn a ruling he was critical of – the Miranda ruling.
IRIN CARMON: You mentioned if Roe v. Wade is overturned, how close are we to that?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: This court is highly precedent bound. And could happen, but I think it’s not– not a likely sc– scenario. The court had– had an opportunity to do that some years ago. And they said in– in an opinion known as C– Casey that they would not depart from the precedent they had set. They did more than that. They gave a reason, a rationale that was absent in Roe v. Wade itself. Roe v. Wade was as much about a doctor’s right to practice his profession as he sees fit. And the image was the doctor and a little woman standing together. We never saw the woman alone. The Casey decision recognized that this is not as much about a doctor’s right to practice his profession, but about a woman’s right to control her life destiny.
Think of– a famous decision. It’s known by the name of Miranda. It tells the police, “Before you question a suspect, you have to tell that suspect of his or her right to remain silent and to have a lawyer. And if the suspect can’t afford a lawyer, to have one provided by the state.
That’s routine now. The– that– that– that the– the police will– will give to people who are arrested. My former chief, Chief Justice Rehnquist, was highly critical of the Miranda decision. But when the question came up, “Would it be overruled?” he said, “No, it has become part of the culture.”
While discussing her health, Justice Ginsberg shares a story about her self-described stubbornness when she had stint surgery to repair a blocked coronary artery.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: The most recent episode– occurred when I was with my personal trainer. And suddenly, my chest felt so constricted. And I broke out in a sweat. I was overwhelmingly (UNINTEL). So I said, “Well, I stayed up all night last night writing an opinion. So I’m just exhausted. I’ll rest for awhile.” I was very stubborn.
My trainer called my secretary– my wonderful secretary, who had already gone home to Annapolis. She came back. And in her gently persuasive way, she said, “We’re putting you in an ambulance and taking you to the hospital. You really must go.” And– of course, I got there. And they gave me an E.K.G. And it showed– whatever it showed, they whisked me up to the catheter place.
And it was a blocked right coronary artery. As soon as they put this stint in, I was awake and in the procedure, groggy, but still awake. And I could see them doing another (UNINTEL). As soon as the stint was in place, I was fine. No more constriction in my chest. I wanted to go home. (LAUGH) And they said, “No, we’re not gonna let you go home. You– you have to stay here for two nights to be sure.” I did that.
At one point, Irin Carmon asked Justice Ginsburg if she changed her mind about anything. That was when the Justice shared advise she got while serving on the DC circuit and continues to live by.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: I got very good advice when I became a judge of the D.C. circuit. Judge Ed (UNINTEL), who is very much my senior colleague, said, “Ruth, I’m gonna tell you something about the business of judging. You work very hard on each case. But when it’s over, don’t look back. Don’t worry about things that are over and done. It’s not productive to do that. Instead, go onto the next case and give it your all.” So nothing leaps immediately to my mind that I would have done differently. But I don’t dwell on that kind of question. I really concentrate on what’s on my plate at the moment and do the very best I can.
When the discussion turned to the topic of tattoos, it was clear that Justice Ginsburg has very strong views on the topic of tattoos. She expressed distress over the fact that they are permanent but she also had an appreciation for one that is a picture of her with the words “Respect the bench”
JUSTICE GINSBURG: I saw that. And I thought it was– I thought it was a joke. I thought it was something you pasted onto your arm. But I– I’m a little distressed that people are really doing that.
IRIN CARMON: Distressed why?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Because why would you make something that can’t be removed on yourself?
However, there was one tattoo that she liked.
IRIN CARMON: Well, I think it’s because they admire you, that’s why. This is the second tattoo I’m aware of. The other one has a picture of you. And it says, “Respect the bench.”
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Well, that’s a nice sentiment. (LAUGH)
Then Irin Carmon asked “What do you want young women who admire you to take away from your work?”
JUSTICE GINSBURG: I would like them to have the enthusiasm that we had in the ’70s– determining that the law should catch up to the changes that have occurred in society, changes in the way people whatever, the realization that no one should be held back, boy or girl– because of gender, artificial gender barriers.
During one part of the interview, Justice Ginsberg was asked to describe things and people in one word.
She described President Obama with “sympathie” which means “who cares about other people. She described Chief Justice Roberst as “Most able to.”
When asked about Citizens United and Hobby Lobby rulings she had the same word many of us think of — Wrong.
Justice Ginsburg declined to discuss gay rights generally and she certainly didn’t want to speculate on how the court will decide the upcoming case on marriage equality.
While critical of rules to restrict abortion access, Justice Ginsburg sees some positive developments in rulings pertaining to women’s rights. She points to one example of her influence over the more conservative justices in a case involving Savana Redding, a girl who was strip searched.
IRIN CARMON: But you’ve been dismayed by the courts rulings on women’s rights?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Not all (UNINTEL). Think of the case of the girl who was strip searched. She was in the eighth grade.
IRIN CARMON: Savana Redding.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: And if you saw the difference between the oral argument and what some of my colleagues thought, “Oh, the boys in the gym, they– they undress and nobody thinks anything of it.”
IRIN CARMON: That was a case in which you changed their minds.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes.
When the interview turned to race relations, Justice Ginsburg dropped a truth bomb on the conservative talking points about racism being a thing of the past.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: People who think you could wave a magic wand and the legacy of the past will be over are blind. Think of neighborhood living patterns. We still have many neighborhoods that are racially– identified. We still have many schools that– ev– even though the days of state enforced segregation are gone, segregation because of geographical boundaries remains.
While recognizing that we “have come a long way”, Justice Ginsburg describes the discrimination (based on race and gender) people continue to experience buy cars and homes as prevalent.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: That same pattern. So again, we’ve come a long way from the days where there was state enforced segregation. But we still have a way to go.
Then the discussion took the next logical step to Justice Ginsburg’s views on the Court’s rollback of civil rights. However, she sharply rebuked the disfunction and shenanigans of the Tea Party dominated Republicans in Congress when compared with the bipartisanship of passed Congresses.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: The– the Congress in 1991 took a look at some of this court’s restrictive interpretations of Title 7. And they passed a bill that changed– changed all of those. At the moment– our Congress is not functioning very well. (LAUGH) I mean, for example, the Voting Rights Act was renewed by overwhelming majorities on both sides of the aisle. But the current Congress is– not equipped really to do anything.
When it came time to discuss her marriage to Martin Ginsburg, Justice Ginsburg identified the characteristics her late husband had, that she felt were exceptional in her experience. She talked about the fact that theirs was a marriage based on mutual support as they built their respective careers but it was also reflected in the way they cooked their meals.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Marty was an extraordinary person. Of all the boys I had dated, he was the only one who really cared that I had a brain. And he was always– well, making me feel that I was better than I thought I was. So we went to law school. And he told everybody, all of his friends, and he– he was one year ahead of me. His wife was gonna be on the Law Review.
And people looked at me and said, “She doesn’t look like the type that’s gonna be on the Law Review,” whatever that type was. And– but in the– in the course of a marriage, one accommodates the other. So, for example, when Marty was intent on becoming a partner in– in a New York law firm in five years, during that time, I was the major caretaker of– of our home and– and– and then– child. But when I was– when I– started up the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Marty realized how important that work was.
Well, I was the everyday cook. And Marty was the company and weekend cook. And my daughter, who was a fine cook– when she was in high school, maybe about 15-16, she noticed the enormous difference between Daddy’s cooking and Mommy’s cooking. And decided that– Mommy should be phased out of the kitchen altogether. She shouldn’t be cooking every day.
Justice Ginsburg went on to confess that she hasn’t cooked a single meal since 1980.
Later, Carmon asked Justice Ginsburg if she still experiences sexism. The answer is yes, though less than she once did. When asked how she reacts to it, Justice Ginsberg said she does it through her opinions and speeches. She tells the message that it is “wrong to judge people on the basis of what they look like, color of their skin, whether they’re men or women.”
When the question of retirement came up, told us how she would know when it is time.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: once I sense that I am slipping, I will step down. Because this is a very intense job. It is by far the best and the hardest job I’ve ever had. And it takes a lot of energy and staying power to do it right. So that is– is when I will– I will step down when I feel I can no longer do the job full steam.
On how she hopes to be remembered.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something, as my colleague David Souter would say, outside myself. ‘Cause I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid.
Ginsburg also provided more detail and context to why she fell asleep during President Obama’s SOTU Address.
IRIN CARMON: I’ve gotta ask you, by the way, everybody’s talking about the State of the Union. They’re saying you said yesterday that you were not 100% sober.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Oh– (LAUGH) what I meant was that I head a glass of wine with dinner. And that on top of having stayed up all night. I was writing something.
Overall, the interview tells us Ruth Bader Ginsburg sees America as it really is and how it could be. We see a justice who recognizes a period of struggle, in which there are shades of gray, but also shades of light that give us hope. Justice Ginsberg is someone who combines the reality of the way things are with an idealism of how things could be and as importantly, a pragmatic way to make those ideals possible. Throughout it all, Justice Ginsburg shattered Republican talking points with facts, legal history and the insights of a great Supreme Court Justice.
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.