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Ruth Marcus: Ginsburg on the offensive

BY RUTH MARCUS Published: August 28, 2013

Maybe it's good that the justices have another month off before the Supreme Court starts up again. The wounds from last term don't seem fully healed.

There was Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Montana last week, none too subtly chastising his colleagues' rulings on gay rights. “It's not up to the courts to invent new minorities that get special protections,” Scalia said, according to The Associated Press.

Asked about the most wrenching decision in his time on the bench, Scalia replied, “Well, is Obamacare too recent?” Which suggests that scars linger from the 2012 term, too.

But we have become accustomed to Scalia's verbal pugilism. More surprising have been the latest volleys from the liberal justice he has described as his “best buddy” on the court: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In the hermetic world the justices inhabit, Ginsburg has launched a virtual press tour this summer, granting interviews to Reuters, the AP, USA Today, Bloomberg and The New York Times, with two can't-miss messages.

The first is aimed at liberals: She's not retiring any time soon, thanks for asking. No matter how much you want to ensure that a Democratic president gets to pick the next nominee.

The suggestion that she retire was delivered in its most unvarnished form by Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy, who wrote in The New Republic in 2011 that Ginsburg, 80, and fellow Justice Stephen Breyer, 75, ought to step down, pronto. “Their estimable records will be besmirched … if they stay on the bench too long,” he warned.

Ginsburg, speaking to Reuters' Joan Biskupic in July, predicted more such chatter would “start up again” — and took pains to squelch retirement fever. She told USA Today: “As long as I can do the job full-steam, I would like to stay here.”

Speaking to The New York Times' Adam Liptak last week, Ginsburg dismissed any suggestion that her timing would be dictated by the election calendar. “There will be a president after this one, and I'm hopeful that that president will be a fine president,” she said.

No justice is going to admit to basing retirement plans on the president in power; Liptak wrote that Ginsburg “said repeatedly that the identity of the president who would appoint her replacement did not figure in her retirement planning.”

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