By Liz Goodwin
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, fresh off a bruising loss in the Hobby Lobby birth control case last month, told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric in an exclusive interview that she believes the male Supreme Court justices who voted against her have a "blind spot" when it comes to women.
"Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?" Couric asked Ginsburg of the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, which cleared the way for employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives to female workers on religious grounds.
"I would have to say no," the 81-year-old justice replied. Asked if the five justices revealed a "blind spot" in their decision, Ginsburg said yes.
The feisty leader of the court's minority liberal bloc compared the decision of her five male peers to an old Supreme Court ruling that found discriminating against pregnant women was legal.
"But justices continue to think and can change," she added, hopefully. "They have wives. They have daughters. By the way, I think daughters can change the perception of their fathers.
"I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow," she said.
In a blistering 35-page dissent, Ginsburg wrote that the majority was allowing employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees who do not necessarily share them, an activity the judge believes is not protected by the Constitution. Her dissent stirred up admiration from her younger female fans, one of whom created a Tumblr celebrating her as the "Notorious RBG."
"I certainly respect the belief of the Hobby Lobby owners," she said. "On the other hand, they have no constitutional right to foist that belief on the hundreds and hundreds of women" who work for them.
The court's other two women — Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — and Justice Stephen Breyer joined Ginsburg in her dissent. The liberal wing of the court often joins forces with the five conservative justices — indeed, the majority of this court's opinions are unanimous. But in big decisions touching on hot-button social issues, the court tends to split down ideological lines.
Liberals who are worried that their share of the court could shrink even more have urged the tiny justice to retire so that President Barack Obama can fill her spot before a Republican could potentially take his job. But Ginsburg, coy as usual on this subject, told Couric she has no plans to retire.
"All I can say is that I am still here and likely to remain for a while," she said, adding that she looks to former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis as a model. He retired at 82. "I expect to stay at least that long," she said. Ginsburg has undergone treatment for two bouts of cancer and two broken ribs during her time on the bench. She said she will retire when she feels she can no longer write and think as sharply and as quickly as she can now.
The impact the Hobby Lobby decision will have on women is something she feels in a highly personal way. Before she became a judge, Ginsburg knocked down law after law as a litigator targeting gender discrimination — from a state statute making jury duty optional for women to one that prevented them from being the executors of estates. She won five of the six times that she argued in front of the Supreme Court, and was known for picking incremental, cautious cases that just as often had male plaintiffs as female ones. (For example, she argued that a local law that allowed women to buy alcohol at a younger age than men was discriminatory against men.)
Ginsburg played a huge role in tearing down arbitrary gender distinctions that prevented women from entering certain professions (the law, for one). But she told Couric that one of the most important things a woman needs to get ahead professionally is a caring life partner who is willing to share the work.
The justice knows from personal experience. She was married to her husband, Marty Ginsburg, a tax attorney, for 56 years before he died of cancer in 2010.
"I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his," she said. "And I think that made all the difference for me, and Marty was an unusual man. In fact, he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain."
They shared housekeeping chores and child-rearing duties, while both attending law school.
"You can't have it all, all at once," Ginsburg said, referencing the controversial magazine article about work-life balance by academic and former Obama administration official Anne-Marie Slaughter. "Who — man or woman — has it all, all at once? Over my lifespan I think I have had it all. But in different periods of time things were rough. And if you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it."
Yet the judge who did so much to advance the legal standing of women in the country is not a fan of the Roe v. Wade opinion, the landmark case that established a woman's right to an abortion. Ginsburg believes the court should have proceeded more cautiously, striking down Texas' more stringent abortion ban but then leaving it up to states to decide whether they would allow abortions or not.
"So the problem with Roe v. Wade was, it not only declared the Texas law, the most extreme law, unconstitutional, but it made every law in the country, even the most liberal, unconstitutional," Ginsburg said. "And that gave the right-to-life people a single target to move at. And for them, it was a very effective target. It was nine unelected judges making a decision that they argued should be made by the individual state legislatures.
The frail, birdlike Ginsburg has attracted legions of fans online for her fiery dissents, Hobby Lobby included. One woman created a fan page called "Notorious R.B.G." comparing the be-doily-ed jurist with the rapper Biggie Smalls.
"She has created a wonderful thing with Notorious R.B.G.," Ginsburg said of the site. "I will admit I had to be told by my law clerks, what's this Notorious. And they — they explained that to me."
Ginsburg also showed her collection of lace collars — called "jabots" — to Couric. She has a special collar she wears for when she's dissenting, and another for when she is in the majority.
"It looks fitting for dissents," she said, eyeing the slightly more severe collar.
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