Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed this week that she dreams of serving on the Supreme Court for another decade.
Ginsburg, age 86, traveled to Portugal with Justice John Paul Stevens — who died July 16 at the age of 99 — during the last week of his life. She recounted a story from the trip at a Washington, D.C., event hosted by Duke Law School on Wednesday night: “As we were leaving the U.S. ambassador’s residence our last evening in Lisbon, I said to John, ‘My dream is to remain on the court as long as you did.’ His immediate response? ‘Stay longer!’”
Ginsburg would need to serve until 2028, when she would be 95, to surpass Stevens’s nearly 35-year tenure on the court.
It may be a bit morbid, but given the nature of lifetime appointments and the outsize role of the Supreme Court in American political life, there is intense interest surrounding Ginsburg’s health. She has spent the week making public appearances and pointedly insisting that she isn’t going anywhere.
“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,” Ginsburg told NPR in an on-camera interview Tuesday, the day of Stevens’s funeral, referring to former Kentucky senator Jim Bunning. “That senator, whose name I have forgotten, is now himself dead, and I am very much alive.”
On Wednesday night, Ginsburg delivered a 30-minute speech looking back at the 2018 Supreme Court term and Stevens’s life, before participating in an hour-long question-and-answer session with Duke Law professor Neil Siegel, one of her former clerks. When Siegel asserted during the Q&A 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,” Ginsburg immediately defended Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. “My two newest colleagues are very decent, very smart individuals,” she said.
She expressed delight over the fact that she had assigned two opinions to Gorsuch and one to Kavanaugh during the last term, something she was only able to do only because the two justices senior to her on the court (Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas) were in the minority.
“The Court remains the most collegial place I have ever worked,” Ginsburg said. She lamented how divisive Supreme Court nominations have become. “I had a history of being a flaming feminist,” Ginsburg said, before noting that she was confirmed 96–3. “I was general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.” Ginsburg pointed out that her “buddy,” the late Justice Antonin Scalia, also had well-known constitutional views when he was confirmed by a unanimous vote. “My hope is we will return to the way it once was,” Ginsburg said of the confirmation process.
“Nowadays, when people divide into ‘I’ll talk to my own kind, and the others I have nothing to do with,’ that’s very sad because that hasn’t been the way it was and isn’t the way this country should be,” Ginsburg said. She added that Americans should go “beyond just mere tolerance of different views” to “welcoming different views because they enrich our society.”
To NPR, Ginsburg also expressed concern about the perils of packing the Supreme Court, a policy that has gained the support of several Democratic presidential candidates. “Nine seems to be a good number. It’s been that way for a long time,” she said. “I think it was a bad idea when President Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the court.”
“If anything would make the court look partisan,” she added, “it would be that: one side saying, ‘When we’re in power, we’re going to enlarge the number of judges, so we would have more people who would vote the way we want them to.’”
Despite Ginsburg’s dream of staying on the court for another decade, she sounded a more realistic note at the end of Wednesday night’s Q&A session. “I’ll stay on this job as long as I can do it full-steam. That means, at my age, 86, you have to take it year by year,” she said. “I was okay this last term. I expect to be okay next term. And after that, we’ll just have to see.”