May 29th, 2020

On Law

Following backlash, Ginsburg expresses 'regret' for remarks criticizing Trump

Robert Barnes

By Robert Barnes

Published July 15, 2016

WASHINGTON - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Thursday that she should not have publicly criticized presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and that she would be more "circumspect" in the future to avoid commenting on partisan politics.

The senior member of the Supreme Court's liberal wing had criticized Trump in three media interviews since last week, calling him a "faker" and saying she feared for the country and the Supreme Court if he were elected.

Those comments - unprecedented in modern Supreme Court custom - brought criticism and questions over ethics even from usual allies, who said Supreme Court justices should not insert themselves into the elections. The judicial ethics code that binds lower-court judges - but not Supreme Court justices - forbids judges from endorsing or speaking about candidates.

In a statement issued Thursday by the court's public information office, Ginsburg seemed to agree with the criticism, although she did not apologize to Trump, who had demanded it.

"On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised and I regret making them," Ginsburg said. "Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future I will be more circumspect." Last week, Ginsburg publicly slammed Trump and what his possible presidency would mean for the court.

"I can't imagine what this place would be - I can't imagine what the country would be - with Donald Trump as our president," Ginsburg told the New York Times. "For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be - I don't even want to contemplate that."

She made similar comments to the Associated Press. On Monday during a CNN interview, Ginsburg called Trump a "faker" and said she was surprised that the media has not pressed him more to release his tax returns. Trump quickly fired back, saying in a tweet that the 83-year-old justice should resign and that her mind was "shot."

He said in a radio interview with Herman Cain that Ginsburg didn't really apologize but that she acknowledged a "mistake" and he was ready to move on.

Legal ethics experts had criticized Ginsburg, and some said her comments would raise recusal issues should litigation involving Trump arrive at the court. "She should not have made the comments she made and given Trump the opportunity to try to recuse her," said Richard Painter, a judicial ethics expert at the University of Minnesota.

He said he thought her statement would end the issue, and recusal was not required just because a justice says out loud what it seems likely she believes.

"I don't think anyone thinks Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor or Justice [Stephen] Breyer is going to vote for Donald Trump, but that doesn't mean they should be recused" from litigation involving Trump, Painter said

The court - now at eight members after the death of Antonin Scalia in February - is a major issue in the presidential race, with Republicans and Democrats saying the appointment of the next justice could have a major impact on future rulings.

Ginsburg grants more media interviews than other justices, and she is more outspoken. She previously has been criticized by conservatives for comments she has made about abortion rights and about the court's direction.

But the Trump comments were more specific and drew fire even from those who dislike the Republican; the editorial boards of The Washington Post and New York Times said she should stay out of the political ring.

It was unclear what led Ginsburg to make her statement. The justices operate independently, and it is unlikely that any of her colleagues had any say in her decision.


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