The Corner

Law & the Courts

Justice Ginsburg’s Stardom

John McGinnis writes:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a great rock star for the left, even packing thousands of fans into a stadium in Arkansas. Some have compared this phenomenon to the enthusiasm in some quarters for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. But there is a world of difference between the two justices. Scalia revived a theory of jurisprudence—originalism—that had been dormant for over a half century. He wrote a book defending it. He was one of the great Supreme Court stylists. And he sometimes took positions in contested cases that political scientists coded as opposed to the conservative wing of the Republican party from which he came, showing that he was a judge and not a politician in robes.

In contrast, Ginsburg has become an icon without any of these distinctions. She is not a particularly gifted writer and has not previously articulated a comprehensive theory of constitutional interpretation. Unlike Justice Scalia and, for that matter, Justice Stephen Breyer, she has never written book defending her jurisprudential approach. And it is hard to think of any major case that substantially divided the justices where her vote failed to take the position political scientists would code as liberal. Of course, given the intellectual orthodoxy that dominates our universities today, it is not surprising this performance has nevertheless netted her an honorary degree from every Ivy League University except Cornell (and Cornell does not award honorary degrees) while Scalia was never once so honored.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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