Tag Archives: ruth bader ginsburg

Republicans vow to obstruct anyone Obama nominates to fill Scalia’s seat

Antonin Scalia, who was considered one of most conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, died Friday night while staying at a hunting resort in the Big Bend area of Texas. The caustic firebrand complained about feeling ill the night before he was found unresponsive in his room.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Scalia was part of a 5-4 conservative majority — with one of the five, Anthony Kennedy, sometimes voting with liberals on the court. In a tie vote, the lower court opinion prevails.

Scalia’s death leaves a 4–4 split between liberal and conservative justices on the bench, which means many important decisions will be tied. An even split between conservatives and liberals on the Supreme Court will leave nearly an entire year in which many major upcoming decisions, including cases involving abortion, affirmative action and immigration policy, will be resolved by lower courts

After offering his condolences to Scalia’s family and paying tribute to him as a “towering figure,” President Barack Obama vowed to nominate a successor to Scalia “in due time.”

Republican congressional leaders, hoping to win the White House next year, fired back that they would refuse to approve anyone Obama nominates — a ploy in which they are well versed. They insist no nomination should be made until the next president takes office, which is nearly 11 months away.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, said it would be “unprecedented in recent history” for the court to have a vacancy for so long a time.

The Supreme Court will now become a major issue in this year’s presidential race.

Dozens of federal positions remain unfilled due to Republican obstructionism, including the nomination of Eric Fanning to be the next secretary of the Army. The Senate refuses to approve Fanning due to his sexual orientation. He’s stepped down from his post as acting secretary because of the political turmoil.

Last year, Sen. Marco Rubio, R–Fla., scuttled Obama’s nomination of Judge Darrin Gayles, an out gay black state court judge, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Scalia, who was selected in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan, seemed to have a mission to move the court to the right. He was a strict constructionist who adhered to legal“originalism,”which he called “textualism.” In other words, judges had a duty to give the same meaning to the words and concepts as they were understood by the Founding Fathers. Because same-sex marriage was not mentioned in the Constitution, written over 200 years ago, Scalia believed that the issue was not a Constitutional one.

A challenge to a Washington, D.C., gun ban gave Scalia the opportunity to display his devotion to textualism. In a 5–4 decision that split the court’s conservatives and liberals, he wrote that an examination of English and colonial history made it exceedingly clear that the Second Amendment protected Americans’ right to have guns, at the very least in their homes and for self-defense. The dissenters, also claiming fidelity to history, said the amendment was meant to ensure that states could raise militias to confront a too-powerful federal government if necessary.

But Scalia rejected that view. “Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct,” Scalia wrote.

Scalia carried his rifle in a case on the New York City subways. Decades later, he taught the Upper West Sider Kagan how to shoot a gun and the two went together on excursions hunting animals.

Scalia was a strong supporter of privacy in cases involving police searches and defendants’ rights. But, a devoted Roman Catholic, he also voted consistently to let states outlaw abortions, to allow a closer relationship between government and religion, to permit executions and to limit lawsuits.

In 2002, however, he surprised SCOTUS observers by opposing the court’s decision to outlaw executing the mentally disabled, despite the church’s rejection of the death penalty. The framers of the Constitution didn’t think capital punishment was unconstitutional and neither did he, he said, adding that judges who follow the philosophy that capital punishment is morally wrong should resign.

A longtime law professor before becoming a judge, Scalia frequently spoke at law schools and to other groups. Later in his tenure, he also spoke at length in on-the-record interviews, often to promote a book.

He betrayed no uncertainty about some of the most contentious legal issues of the day.

“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state,” Scalia said during a talk that preceded a book signing at the American Enterprise Institute in 2012.

Scalia was in the court’s majority in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, which effectively decided the presidential election for Republican George W. Bush. “Get over it,” Scalia would famously say at speaking engagements in the ensuing years whenever the topic arose.

The justice relished a good fight. In 2004, when an environmental group asked him to step aside from a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney after reports that Scalia and Cheney hunted ducks together, the justice responded with a 21-page memorandum explaining his intention to hear the case. He said “the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined,” if people thought a duck-hunting trip could sway his vote.

Two years later, The Boston Herald reported that Scalia employed an obscene hand gesture while leaving a church in response to another question about his impartiality. Scalia penned a scathing letter to the newspaper, taking issue with the characterization. He explained that the gesture —the extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin — was dismissive, not obscene.

“From watching too many episodes of The Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene,” he said.

A smoker of cigarettes and pipes, Scalia enjoyed baseball, poker, hunting and playing the piano. He was an enthusiastic singer at court Christmas parties and other musical gatherings.

Born in New Jersey, he was the only child of an Italian immigrant father who was a professor of Romance languages and a mother who taught elementary school. He attended public schools, graduated first in his class at Georgetown University and won high honors at the Harvard University Law School. He taught law and served in Republican administrations before Reagan made him an appeals court judge in Washington in 1982. Scalia and his wife Maureen had nine children.

Scalia’s impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus.

The friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg inspired the opera Scalia/Ginsburg by composer Derrick Wang. The two once appeared on stage as extras in a performance art the Washington Opera.

In one aria, the Scalia character rages about justices who see the Constitution evolving with society.

The operatic Scalia fumes: “The justices are blind. How can they spout this? The Constitution says absolutely nothing about this.”

The real-life Scalia certainly agreed.

Scales of justice: Ginsburg No. 1 in opinion poll

Public Policy Polling surveyed the nation’s voters on the favorability of U.S. Supreme Court justices — before the biggest decisions of the term were released.

PPP, a liberal-leaning polling firm, found that voters say Ruth Bader Ginsburg is their favorite justice — as much as they have a favorite. Ginsburg won the top spot with just 19 percent.

Next in line: Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas at 11 percent, John Roberts and Antonin Scalia at 8 percent, Elena Kagan at 7 percent, Anthony Kennedy at 5 percent and Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer at 4 percent.

Ginsburg is a clear favorite among Democrats, followed by Sotomayor.

Thomas, meanwhile, finishes first with Republicans at 21 percent, followed by Roberts and Scalia.

Asked to name their least favorite member of the court, 18 percent chose Thomas, 12 percent chose Ginsburg, 10 percent named Scalia, 8 percent went for Kagan and Sotomayor, 5 percent named Alito, 4 percent said Roberts and 3 percent said Kennedy and Breyer.

Thomas is the least favorite member among Democrats and Ginsburg is the least favorite among Republicans.

Overall Americans have a negative view of the Supreme Court — about 59 percent of Republicans think the court is too liberal and 45 of Democrats think the court is too conservative.

Supreme Court Justice Kagan officiates at gay couple’s wedding

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on Sept. 21 officiated at the wedding of her former law clerk and his husband.

The ceremony for Mitchell Reich and Patrick Pearsall took place in Chevy Chase, Maryland. A spokeswoman for the court said it was the first same-sex wedding at which Kagan officiated.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has officiated at same-sex weddings, as has retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Next week, the Supreme Court justices, in a private conference, are scheduled to take a look at seven marriage-related petitions from five states, including Wisconsin. 

The petitions before the Court — writ of certiorari or requests for review — came from Wisconsin, Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia.

The justices could decide to hear all, any or none of the cases, or they could decide to wait for more petitions from other legal challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage.

Interested parties will be watching on Oct. 6, when the court is set to release an orders list that could indicate which — if any — marriage cases the justices might hear in their 2014–15 term.

There have been more than 20 victories for marriage equality in the courts since last summer, when the Supreme Court cleared the way for California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage to fall and removed barriers to the federal government recognizing same-sex marriages. Among those victories are five at the U.S. appeals court level. The most recent wins came from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on challenges to anti-gay bans in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg says Supreme Court won’t ‘duck’ same-sex marriage

The Supreme Court won’t duck the issue of same-sex marriage the next time a case comes to the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says.

The 81-year-old Ginsburg said in an interview with The Associated Press that she expects a same-sex marriage case to be heard and decided by June 2016, and possibly a year earlier.

Attitudes have changed swiftly in favor of same-sex marriage, which is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, Ginsburg said in her wood-paneled office on the court’s main floor.

She predicted that the justices would not delay ruling as they did on interracial marriage bans, which were not formally struck down until 1967.

“I think the court will not do what they did in the old days when they continually ducked the issue of miscegenation,” Ginsburg said. “If a case is properly before the court, they will take it.”

The comment marked something of a change for Ginsburg, who previously had been seen as wary about the court getting too far ahead of the country in ruling on major social issues.

The justices decided two same-sex marriage cases in June 2013. Ginsburg was in the majority to strike down part of the anti-gay marriage Defense of Marriage Act. She also was part of a court majority that declined to rule on the merits of California’s Proposition 8 that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The effect of the decision was to allow same-sex unions to resume in California, but the high court said nothing about the right to marry.

Appeals courts in Denver and Richmond, Virginia, have upheld lower court rulings striking down state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Any of those cases could make their way to the Supreme Court in the coming months.

Ginsburg also addressed two cases decided by the court in June that affect the rights of women. In one, she defended the court’s ruling that struck down the 35-foot, protest-free zone on sidewalks outside Massachusetts abortions clinics.

“It was not a compromise decision but a good decision to say yes, you can regulate, but it is speech so you have to be careful not to go too far,” Ginsburg said. While all the justices said the 35-foot buffer zone violated the Constitution, Ginsburg joined Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s other liberal justices to strike down the buffer zone on narrower grounds than the other, more conservative justices wanted.

In the other case, Ginsburg and her liberal colleagues dissented from a decision that allows for-profit corporations, such as the Hobby Lobby chain of crafts stores, to assert religious objections to paying for contraceptives for women, as required under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Joining Ginsburg in dissent were the other two women on the court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, and Justice Stephen Breyer.

“I have no doubt that if the court had been composed of nine women the result would have been different in Hobby Lobby,” Ginsburg said.

She said, though, that she hasn’t lost hope for the five men on the court who formed the majority in favor of Hobby Lobby. “As long as one lives, one can learn,” she said.

Ginsburg has served on the court since 1993. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton. She said feels she can still do the job well and rebuffed suggestions that she should retire now so President Barack Obama can appoint a like-minded successor.

“Right now, I don’t see any sign that I’m less able to do the job,” she said.

She directed a feisty response to law professors Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law School and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, who have called on her to step down now.

“So who do you think could be nominated now that would get through the Senate that you would rather see on the court than me?” she said.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg says growing LGBT equality reflects ‘genius’ of the Constitution

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recently officiated at a friend’s same-sex wedding, told a Philadelphia audience Sept. 6 that growing acceptance of gay marriage reflects the “genius” of the U.S. Constitution.

Ginsburg said equality has always been central to the Constitution, even if society has only applied it to minorities – be they women, blacks or gays – over time.

“So I see the genius of our Constitution, and of our society, is how much more embracive we have become than we were at the beginning,” Ginsburg said in a far-ranging discussion of her work at the National Constitution Center, steps from the nation’s founding at Independence Hall.

Ginsburg, the second woman named to the high court, has now served for 20 years and leads the court’s liberal minority.

Her increasingly candid and forceful writing – often as the voice of the dissent in 5-4 cases – has attracted ardent fans, including New York University law school student Shana Knizhnik, who wore a “Notorious R.B.G.” T-shirt – a twist on the similarly named Brooklyn rapper.

Knizhnik, 25, of Philadelphia, who designed the shirt and has sold about 2,000 of them, so admired the justice’s writings and accomplishments that she started a blog this year devoted to “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in all her glory.”

“Her story’s so amazing and inspiring,” said Knizhnik, who plans a career as a public defender. “The work she continues to do and fight for, despite the rightward direction the court seems to be going in. Especially seeing a woman up there is so great. I would love to have even a fraction of the career she’s had.”

In recent years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly decided pivotal issues by a single vote, from the Bush v. Gore election to the health care reform act to the June decision to strike down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Ginsburg has often been on the losing side of the epic battles, but said some would have turned out differently had the first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, not retired in 2006.

“The year she left us, in every case where I was among the four, if she had remained, I would have been among the five. So her leaving the court made an enormous difference,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg criticized her majority colleagues for what she called “activist” decisions that overturned laws better understood by Congress, such as the Voting Rights Act, which had been extended by a series of bipartisan presidents, most recently George W. Bush.

“That’s an example of striking down legislation on a subject that the people in the political arena are better informed about than the court is,” she said.

Ginsburg, 80, gave no hint she would wind down her judicial career anytime soon, noting that the fall docket includes such important issues as campaign finance limits and affirmative action. And, despite her sharp ideological differences with some colleagues, including close friend Antonin Scalia, she said their work environment remains cordial.

“One of the hallmarks of the court is collegiality,” Ginsburg said. “You could not do the job that the Constitution gives to us if you didn’t, to use one of Justice Scalia’s favorite expressions, ‘Get over it.'”

For first time, Supreme Court Justice to officiate at same-sex wedding

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will officiate at a same-sex wedding this weekend in what is believed to be a first for a member of the nation’s highest court, The Associated Press reports.

Ginsburg will officiate tomorrow at the marriage of Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser and John Roberts, a government economist.

“Michael Kaiser is a friend and someone I much admire,” Ginsburg said in a written released Friday. “That is why I am officiating at his wedding.”

The private ceremony will take place at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a national memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The 80-year-old Ginsburg, an opera lover, is a frequent guest at the center.

Same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and 13 states.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg told The Washington Post in an interview.

“It won’t be long before there will be another” performed by a justice. She has another ceremony planned for September.

Kaiser told The Associated Press that he asked Ginsburg to officiate because she is a longtime friend.

“It’s very meaningful mostly to have a friend officiate, and then for someone of her stature, it’s a very big honor,” Kaiser said. “I think that everything that’s going on that makes same-sex marriage possible and visible helps to encourage others and to make the issue seem less of an issue, to make it just more part of life.”

Justices generally avoid taking stands on political issues. The wedding, though, comes after the court’s landmark ruling in June to expand federal recognition of same-sex marriages, striking down part of an anti-gay marriage law.

While hearing arguments in the case in March, Ginsburg argued for treating marriages equally. The rights associated with marriage are pervasive, she said, and the law had created two classes of marriage, full and “skim-milk marriage.”

Before the court heard arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, Ginsburg told The New Yorker magazine in March that she had not performed a same-sex marriage and had not been asked. Justices do officiate at other weddings, though.

“I don’t think anybody’s asking us, because of these cases,” she told the magazine. “No one in the gay-rights movement wants to risk having any member of the court be criticized or asked to recuse. So I think that’s the reason no one has asked me.”

Asked whether she would perform such a wedding in the future, she said: “Why not?”

Supreme Court justice to officiate at same-sex wedding

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will officiate at a same-sex wedding this weekend in what is believed to be a first for a member of the nation’s highest court, The Associated Press reports.

Ginsburg will officiate tomorrow at the marriage of Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser and John Roberts, a government economist.

“Michael Kaiser is a friend and someone I much admire,” Ginsburg said in a written released Friday. “That is why I am officiating at his wedding.”

The private ceremony will take place at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a national memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The 80-year-old Ginsburg, an opera lover, is a frequent guest at the center.

Same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and 13 states.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg told The Washington Post in an interview.

“It won’t be long before there will be another” performed by a justice. She has another ceremony planned for September.

Kaiser told The Associated Press that he asked Ginsburg to officiate because she is a longtime friend.

“It’s very meaningful mostly to have a friend officiate, and then for someone of her stature, it’s a very big honor,” Kaiser said. “I think that everything that’s going on that makes same-sex marriage possible and visible helps to encourage others and to make the issue seem less of an issue, to make it just more part of life.”

Justices generally avoid taking stands on political issues. The wedding, though, comes after the court’s landmark ruling in June to expand federal recognition of same-sex marriages, striking down part of an anti-gay marriage law.

While hearing arguments in the case in March, Ginsburg argued for treating marriages equally. The rights associated with marriage are pervasive, she said, and the law had created two classes of marriage, full and “skim-milk marriage.”

Before the court heard arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, Ginsburg told The New Yorker magazine in March that she had not performed a same-sex marriage and had not been asked. Justices do officiate at other weddings, though.

“I don’t think anybody’s asking us, because of these cases,” she told the magazine. “No one in the gay-rights movement wants to risk having any member of the court be criticized or asked to recuse. So I think that’s the reason no one has asked me.”

Asked whether she would perform such a wedding in the future, she said: “Why not?”

Scalia, Ginsburg inspire opera

He’s a tenor stuck in the 18th century. She’s a soprano who evolves over time.

They fight like cats and dogs at work, but somehow forge and maintain a beautiful friendship.

It’s “Scalia/Ginsburg,” the opera by award-winning composer Derrick Wang, who just graduated from the University of Maryland law school.

Justices Antonin Scalia, with his devotion to the Constitution’s original meaning, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, more willing to adapt the Constitution to changing times, are ideological opposites and longtime friends with a mutual love of opera.

The idea of setting their words to music came to Wang, 29, when he was studying constitutional law and reading Scalia’s often fiery and well-constructed dissents. Ginsburg’s responses had their own lyricism, he said.

And so he wrote an aria for the Scalia character in the 18th century style known as opera seria in which Scalia rages about justices who want the Constitution to mean whatever they think it should mean – just as he does in real life.

Scalia fumes: “The justices are blind. How can they spout this? The Constitution says absolutely nothing about this.”

The response from Ginsburg begins in a 19th century style, but becomes more modern along the way, Wang said.

“How many times must I tell you, dear Mister Justice Scalia: You’d spare us such pain if you’d just entertain this idea,” Ginsburg says. “You are searching in vain for a bright-line solution to a problem that isn’t so easy to solve. But the beautiful thing about our Constitution is that, like our society, it can evolve.”

Wang previewed his work during a private audience with the two justices in late June, the day after the court issued its final opinions for the session and struck down part a federal anti-gay marriage law. Scalia read his dissent aloud in U.S. v. Windsor.

Ginsburg said the timing was perfect, “that after Scalia’s stirring statement in the Windsor case, that we should end up on this note emphasizing the importance of collegiality.”

“If they can get along and be friends, there’s no excuse for the rest of us,” Wang said in a telephone interview, two days after he finished taking the Maryland bar exam.

He said he plans to devote himself to finishing the one-hour opera so that it is ready for a premiere in Washington next year – maybe even at the court, Ginsburg said.

She said some friends told her she should have insisted on top billing. The justice was not about to lobby for a change. “I said, first of all it sounds better, and second, everything here is done by seniority,” said Ginsburg, seven years Scalia’s junior as a justice.

Justice Ginsburg: DOMA likely before Court in 2013

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said on Sept. 19 that she believes the federal Defense of Marriage Act will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court within the next year.

Ginsburg spoke at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She was asked a student-submitted question about the equal-protection clause and how the nation’s High Court would consider it applying to sexual orientation.

Ginsburg said with a smile that she couldn’t answer the question. She said she could not talk about matters that would come to the court, and that the Defense of Marriage Act would probably be up soon.

“I think it’s most likely that we will have that issue before the court toward the end of the current term,” she said.

The 1996 law has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in New York and is awaiting arguments before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Those oral arguments are scheduled for Sept. 27.

The law was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton after the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1993 making it appear Hawaii might legalize gay marriage.

Since then, many states have banned gay marriage, while eight states have approved it, led by Massachusetts in 2004 and continuing with Connecticut, New York, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland and Washington state. Maryland and Washington’s laws aren’t yet in effect and might be subject to referendums.

In February 2011, President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder instructed the Department of Justice to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

Ginsburg’s remarks came at a conference sponsored by the University of Colorado law school. Ginsburg talked mostly about entering the legal profession when there were few female lawyers and even fewer judges.

The students roared with laughter when Ginsburg told of scrambling even to find a women’s restroom in law school at Columbia University in the 1950s.

“We never complained, that’s just the way it was,” she said to laughter from the students.

Pending at the Supreme Court level is a case challenging an anti-gay marriage amendment in California – Proposition 8.