Bench Memos

I’m So Ronery, So Ronery and Sadry Arone

That immortal line, sung by Kim Jong Il in Team America: World Police, comes to mind as I read this story about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the front page of today’s Washington Post, reporting on yesterday’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.  Ed Whelan is quite right below to note the open politicking of Justice Ginsburg in her dissent in this case.  But the Post story by Robert Barnes is amazingly politicized.  Yes, it’s noteworthy that Justice Ginsburg read much of her dissent from the bench, which she doesn’t often do.  Yes, it’s newsworthy that she called on Congress to reverse the ruling.  But that isn’t the central point of the story, and Ed is right that this ought to be covered as something like an outright impropriety.

In truth, Ledbetter is a pretty insignificant case, interpreting a statutory time requirement and not really reaching the merits of the plaintiff’s complaint that she was the victim of sex discrimination.  The surprise is that there were four votes dissenting from this fairly straightforward ruling.  And Justice Ginsburg sure scored big with the Post today, getting front-page coverage that favors her from the headline (“Over Ginsburg’s Dissent, Court Limits Bias Suits”), to the choice of adjectives and verbs (her words were “stinging,” last month she “rebuked” the majority in the Carhart ruling, her statement yesterday was “empathetic”), to the faintly ridiculous thesis blithely accepted at the end of the article that Justice Ginsburg is “lonely” as the only woman on the Supreme Court since the departure of Justice O’Connor.  Oh, come now.  She has three liberal colleagues willing to sign on to a dissent as weak as this one.  If a conservative woman were appointed to the Court, one who disagrees with Justice Ginsburg and hews more regularly to the rule of law, would her “loneliness” disappear?  According to the Post, she and Justice O’Connor have “expressed consternation” that the number of women on the Court is back down to one.  You want to see consternation?  Put an Edith Jones on the bench and we’ll see how much value the sisterhood has.

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.