Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with clerk hires, signals desire to outlast Trump
By Joan Biskupic, CNN Legal Analyst and Supreme Court Biographer
(CNN) — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg marks her 25th anniversary on the Supreme Court this year, and the cultural icon known as the “Notorious RBG” recently signaled that she intends to stay at least through 2020 by hiring law clerks for at least two more terms.
Ginsburg, who turns 85 in March, would have to stay another decade to near the record of William O. Douglas, who served the longest at 36 years. But Ginsburg has already distinguished herself among justices for an intriguing second act, the product of pop culture passion.
If Democrat Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016, liberal Ginsburg would likely have announced her retirement by this spring. Instead the justice who made her name as a women’s rights lawyer in the 1970s apparently is not counting on leaving the stage any time soon.
The law clerk news, reported by Above the Law, triggered a tweet storm through the weekend, some of which included links to a classic 2016 Saturday Night Live “Gins-burn” parody featuring comedian Kate McKinnon as the black-robed Ginsburg.
The Supreme Court public information office confirmed the hiring to CNN.
Some comments on Twitter pitted Ginsburg against President Donald Trump, who in 2016 tweeted that “Her mind is shot — resign!” after she publicly criticized him and deemed him a “faker.” Trump has also said that he expects Ginsburg to leave the court while he is president and able to replace her with a new justice.
Liberal Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe tweeted: “Great news: Justice Ginsburg has hired a full slate of law clerks through 2020. Take that, ‘stable genius’ Donald.”
Ginsburg’s intention to remain on the bench at least through 2020 is not unexpected. Ginsburg has made clear in interviews that she would stay if her health holds. She has survived two bouts with cancer, colorectal in 1999 and pancreatic in 2009, and says she gets regular check-ups. She exercises daily and lifts weights.
When asked in October about possible retirement, she said, “My answer is as long as I can do the job full steam, I will do it.”
Since her appointment in 1993, Ginsburg has had two distinct chapters. She joined as the second woman justice (after Sandra Day O’Connor) and continued her emphasis on women’s rights, penning the 1996 opinion that forced the state-run Virginia Military Institute to admit women, and established a generally liberal record.
But Ginsburg was not among the most visible justices in her earlier years.
That began to change when O’Connor retired in 2006. In February 2009, for example, while undergoing cancer treatment, Ginsburg joined her brethren at an evening joint session of Congress because she wanted the national audience to see that the justices were not only men.
In 2010, when Justice John Paul Stevens retired, Ginsburg became the most senior liberal justice and a robust voice for the left. Her 2013 dissent in a case invalidating a major portion of the Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder, inspired the Notorious RBG meme. Shana Knizhnik, then a New York University law student, adapted it from rapper The Notorious B.I.G. as she highlighted Ginsburg’s opinion about the need for continuing vigilance on voting rights, particularly in places with a history of racial discrimination.
The Brooklyn-born justice has gone along with the attention, which comes especially from young women, in good humor and continued her jabs, if more subtly, at Trump. The day after the November 2016 election, she wore over her black robe the jabot she reserves for days in which she issues a dissenting opinion.
While fans and critics keep an eye on her health, Ginsburg has demonstrated that she has another justice in mind when she thinks about the future of the nine-member bench.
Asked last year who she would like to see eat more kale, she answered, “Justice Kennedy,” referring to centrist conservative Anthony Kennedy, whose vote the four liberals need to prevail and who is 81.
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