Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch at an event on July 24, where she pushed back at criticism about her colleagues and called them “very decent, very smart individuals.”
Ginsburg made the comments during an hour-long Q&A session with one of her former law clerks and Duke Law professor Neil Siegel. During the session, Siegel suggested to Ginsburg that “nominees for the Supreme Court are not chosen primarily anymore for independence, legal ability, [and] personal decency, and I wonder if that’s a loss for all of us,” according to the National Review.
In response, Ginsburg pushed back saying, “My two newest colleagues are very decent, very smart individuals.”
Ginsburg, who is the oldest member on the Supreme Court, also took the opportunity to point out how divisive confirmations had become after Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were nominated in recent years. Both judges were appointed by President Donald Trump.
The 86-year-old said the confirmation processes for her and her colleague the late Justice Antonin Scalia were much smoother even though she “had a history of being a flaming feminist” and had worked as a general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. She was confirmed 96-3. Similarly, Scalia was confirmed by a unanimous vote despite being known for his constitutional views.
“My hope is we will return to the way it once was,” Ginsburg said. She also said Americans go beyond mere tolerance and welcome “different views because they enrich our society.”
Ginsburg had previously criticized the Senate confirmation process during an event at the George Washington University Law School last year, calling it a “highly partisan show.”
“The way it was, was right. The way it is, is wrong,” Ginsburg said while comparing the confirmation processes since 1993 with Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
“The vote on my confirmation was 96-3, even though I had spent about 10 years of my life litigating cases under the auspices of the ACLU,” she said. “No senator asked me any questions. Not about that.”
She added that Justice Scalia received a unanimous vote. “Every Democrat and every Republican voted for him,” she said.
“That’s the way it should be, instead of what it’s become, which is a highly partisan show. The Republicans move in lockstep, and so do the Democrats. I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was,” she said.
Kavanaugh was confirmed in a close vote in October last year. He was selected to replace Anthony Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan-nominee who announced his retirement in June that year. The time leading up to his confirmation hearing was highly contentious after two women came out to accuse him of sexual misconduct. According to an FBI investigation, there was no evidence to support allegations against Justice Kavanaugh, the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement while releasing a summary of the investigation.
“There was no credible evidence to support the allegations against the nominee,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said.
Ginsburg recently told NPR that she was “very much alive” while addressing concerns about her health.
“There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer, who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months,” she said. “That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead, and I am very much alive.”
She was referring to Jim Bunning, a former Major League Baseball player who later served in the U.S. Senate representing Kentucky. Bunning passed away in May 2017.
Ginsburg said she spoke with Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who died on July 16 at age 99, shortly before his death.
As they rode in a car, Ginsburg said that she wanted to serve at least as long as Stevens, who was on the court until he was 90.
“I said that my dream is that I will stay at the court as long as he did,” she said. “And his immediate response was, ‘Stay longer!’”
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.