Ginsburg Was Wrong To Apologize For Trump Comments


You can't unring the bell.

Judges are fond of using that term, applying it in cases when a jury hears something it shouldn't and the judge asks the jurors to forget they ever heard inadmissible testimony.

"It is not an easy task to unring a bell, nor to remove from the mind an impression once firmly imprinted there," then-Chief Justice Thomas A. McBride wrote in 1912, after telling a jury to ignore a witness' prejudicial statement about a defendant.

On July 14, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg apologized for slamming Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a series of interviews with The Associated Press, New York Times and CNN.

"On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised and I regret making them," Ginsburg wrote in a statement. "Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future I will be more circumspect."

Ginsburg tried to unring the bell with a tersely-worded statement after three separate interviews in which she emphatically slammed Trump, made it clear she doesn't think he's qualified to be president, predicted doomsday if he wins the presidency, and even told the press how to do its job covering the businessman.

"He is a faker," Ginsburg said on July 11, during a conversation with a CNN reporter in her chambers.

"He has no consistency about him," Ginsburg continued. "He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. ... How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that."

That followed The New York Times interview published on July 10, when Ginsburg said she "can't imagine what this place would be, can't imagine what this country would be" if Trump becomes president. Telling her interviewer that she doesn't even want to contemplate a Trump presidency, Ginsburg joked that her late husband would have said it's "time for us to move to New Zealand."

And that was only two days after she told an AP reporter that she doesn't want to think about the possibility of Trump becoming commander in chief and nominating justices to the high court.

All in all, Ginsburg's mini press tour made it crystal clear what she thinks of the real estate mogul turned presidential hopeful, and prompted a week's worth of headlines to make sure every American knows it, too.

A key point to keep in mind, when placing Ginsburg's remarks in context, is that there is no context -- no one can remember a time when a Supreme Court justice publicly weighed in on a presidential campaign, much less ripped into one candidate, much less drove the point home in three separate interviews.

There's good reason for that. If Trump wins, Ginsburg will be in the awkward position of hearing cases that have a direct bearing on his policies and efforts as president. If, God forbid, there's a repeat of the 2000 presidential election, and the Supreme Court is called on to help reconcile vote counts, no one will trust Ginsburg to rule impartially. No one will believe she's guided by the constitution instead of her own ideology.

When a justice pretends to be a political pundit, it destroys the credibility of the court, which is why the Code of Conduct for United States Judges expressly states that "a judge should not make speeches for a political organization or candidate, or publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office."

When a justice becomes a public partisan, it sullies the reputation of one of the last American institutions that should be above the petty politics that engulf the other two major branches of government. It erodes trust in that institution, in the eyes of Americans.

That's why the editorial pages of The New York Times and Washington Post agreed with conservative media this week in chastising Ginsburg for her comments, and for calling on her to stop playing at pundit.

Ginsburg has apparently heeded their advice, and she's stopped the name-calling. At least for now.

But she shouldn't have apologized for what she said about Trump. She shouldn't have said her comments were "ill-advised."

Because unfortunately, now the entire country knows exactly how Ruth Bader Ginsburg feels about a major party presidential candidate -- one slip up may have been "ill-advised," but three consecutive interviews over a five-day period is a deliberate effort by someone who knew perfectly well what she was doing.

You can't unring the bell, and Ginsburg should know that better than anyone else.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: NPR, Code of Conduct for United States Judges, The New York Times, CNN, AP / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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