Ruth Bader Ginsburg is telling you she’s not going.
The Supreme Court justice assuaged concerns over the weekend that she is considering retirement after 25 years on the bench. After a Sunday performance of The Originalist at New York City’s 59E59 Theaters, Ginsburg cited the three-and-a-half-decade tenure of former Judge John Paul Stevens — who retired in 2010 — as precedent for retaining her seat on the nation’s highest bench.
“I’m now 85,” Ginsburg claimed. “My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years.”
Ginsburg has long been the court’s most consistent and vocal supporter of queer and trans equality. When the Supreme Court sided narrowly in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips earlier this year, she penned an impassioned dissent dismantling arguments in favor of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the name of “religious liberty.”
“When a couple contacts a bakery for a wedding cake, the product they are seeking is a cake celebrating their wedding, not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings,” Ginsburg wrote.
But since Judge Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June 2018, advocates feared yet another vacancy on the court would imperil many of the bench’s most pro-LGBTQ rulings. Kennedy authored the majority decisions in landmark cases like Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas, which respectively legalized marriage equality and decriminalized sodomy.
After appointing ultra-conservative same-sex marriage opponent Neil Gorsuch to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s spot, Trump tapped D.C. District Judge Brett Kavanaugh for Kennedy’s seat. His nomination was supported by conservative think tanks like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.
Independent analyses of his prior rulings show that if appointed, he would fall to the right of every nominee except for Justice Clarence Thomas.
If Ginsburg’s retirement proceeds along schedule, five more years on the Supreme Court could prevent Trump from tilting the bench further to the conservative side. The Bill Clinton appointee would abdicate her gavel in 2023 — three years into either Donald Trump’s second term or the first term of whichever Democratic candidate faces the sitting president in 2010.
Electing a Democrat in 2020 would, thus, prevent the bench’s most liberal seat from being usurped by another anti-LGBTQ jurist.
While Ginsburg has previously signaled her intention to remain on SCOTUS by tapping law clerks through 2020, critics noted the past 11 justices have retired at an average age of 80 years old. She is already five years past that mark.
But in addition to Stevens’ retirement just days before his 90th birthday, Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes sat on the Supreme Court until the age of 91. Holmes, who stepped down from the bench in 1932, was the bench’s oldest member in history — sitting on the court for 30 years.
Although the president has called on Ginsburg to resign — saying her “mind is shot” — while others have backed term limits for SCOTUS judges, she dismissed the possibility while addressing the audience Sunday.
“You can’t set term limits because to do that you’d have to amend the Constitution,” Ginsburg said. “Article Three says we hold our offices during good behavior.”
“And most judges are very well behaved,” she quipped.
When asked by audience members attending the play about Justice Scalia, her former colleague and close friend, what keeps her “hopeful” during the Trump presidency, she quoted advice from her late husband, Marty Ginsburg. The couple’s 46-year-long relationship will be depicted in the upcoming Felicity Jones-starring biopic, On the Basis of Sex.
“My dear spouse would say that the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle — it is the pendulum,” Ginsburg claimed. “And when it goes very far in one direction you can count on its swinging back.”
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