Ginsburg, Scalia on opposites sides of torture debate

April 13, 2009

As we know, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – a fan of 24 character Jack Bauer – sees nothing wrong with roughing up a terrorism suspect if it yields information that can help stem an attack. His colleague and frequent opera companion Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, however, has a different view.

ginsburg“The police think that a suspect they have apprehended knows where and when a bomb is going to go off,” Ginsburg said during a speech at Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, according to a New York Times report. “Can the police use torture to extract that information? And in an eloquent decision by Aharon Barak, then the chief justice of Israel, the court said: ‘Torture? Never.'”

Ginsburg also said that she wishes that she were not the only woman on the bench. “There I am all alone,” she said, “and it doesn’t look right.”

One thing that she did not talk about, The Washington Post reported, was any desire to step down. Ginsburg, 76, underwent cancer surgery this past winter, and is now undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Still, she hasn’t missed an oral argument – or even a beat, for that matter. At the event, during a videotaped tribute to Ginsburg, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. offered “my warm congratulations on the occasion of your reaching the midpoint of your tenure.”

You can watch the webcast of the symposium here on Moritz College of Law’s website.


You say O’Connor, I say Ginsburg

March 31, 2009

Even the most seasoned Supreme Court litigator can misspeak when standing in front of the nine justices at oral argument.

carterphillipsToday at the Supreme Court, Carter G. Phillips, who has argued before the high court more than five dozen times during his tenure both at the Justice Department and at Sidley Austin, had a little trouble keeping the justices straight.

While discussing a concurrence written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in an employment discrimination case, Phillips said: “Justice Ginsburg provides the formulation that the lower courts can use to try to provide some kind of a jury instruction.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hearing the mistake, corrected Phillips.

“Justice O’Connor,” Ginsburg said.

“Did I say Ginsburg?” Phillips asked.

“Yes,” Ginsburg replied, as member of the audience began to laugh.

“I’m going to hear about this one,” Phillips said. “I apologize.”

A little later, Phillips slipped again. After a lengthy exchange with Justice Stephen Breyer, Phillips addressed him as “Justice Ginsburg.”

The next question was posed by Justice Ginsburg. In that instance, Phillips addressed her correctly.

The transcript for that case, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, can be found here.

Ginsburg to undergo chemotherapy

March 17, 2009

ginsburgsmallToday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a statement from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stating that she will receive chemotherapy treatments as a precaution. In February, Ginsburg underwent successful surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her pancreas.

Ginsburg’s statement today, in its entirely reads:

“On February 5, 2009 I underwent a complete, successful, surgical removal of a pancreatic cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.  In consultation with Dr. Eileen O’Reilly and Dr. Leonard Saltz of MSK, I am scheduled to undergo a precautionary, post-surgery course of chemotherapy at the National Institutes of Health.  The treatments, which will commence in late March, are not expected to affect my schedule at the Court.  Thereafter, it is anticipated that I will require only routine examinations to assure my continuing good health.”

More justice chatter: Ginsburg on recovery, Roberts on Ginsburg

March 17, 2009

The Supreme Court may be in recess until next week, but we are hearing from a number of justices as they traverse the country for speaking engagements.

ginsburgLawyers USA‘s Nora Lockwood Tooher was there when Ruth Bader Ginsburg addressed an audience in Boston, where she said the support of her fellow justices and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor helped her through her recent recovery from cancer surgery.

“We are in many ways like a family,” Ginsburg said of the Court’s justices.

Ginsburg said that the advice O’Connor – who like Ginsburg had cancer surgery during her tenure on the bench without missing a day – gave was to have surgery on a Friday, “get over it over the weekend, and go back Monday.” More on Ginsburg’s talk here from Lawyers USA.

cjrobertsMeanwhile, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. spoke at an Idaho university Friday, where he noted that Ginsburg once told him former Chief Justice William Rehnquist was the best boss she’d ever had.

“I haven’t heard she has revised that assessment,” Roberts said, drawing laughter, according to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Roberts focused most of his comments on President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln, whose 200th birthday is being celebrated this year. Roberts said that Lincoln, as a lawyer and a president, always had an inherent sense of justice. “He could not ignore his internal compass,” Roberts said.

During the speech Roberts was confronted by an audience member claiming to wield documentation showing that President Barack Obama does not meet the citizenship requirement for the presidency. The Supreme Court has already refused to hear several petitions in cases questioning Obama’s citizenship.

Roberts told her to give the documents to security officers, but otherwise declined to discuss the case.

Monday status conference: Budget making and Supreme speculation

March 16, 2009

whitehousePresident Obama is focusing on the budget today, and using familiar avenues to try to sell it (here’s a hint – check you inboxes!). But it won’t be an easy road, as GOP lawmakers have already ripped the president’s spending plan, vowing to offer their own. The Supreme Court is in recess until Friday, when the justices conference.


souter3The most private justice: Not even those closest to Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who some claim may retire from the bench soon, know exactly what his retirement plans are. (AP)

Birthday girl: Meanwhile, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose recent comments that there will “soon” be a vacancy on the Court stirred even more speculation, turned 76 on Sunday. Read more here on Ginsburg’s talk in Boston here from Lawyers USA.

Bias claim boom: The economy is bad, but at least one area of law is booming: employment attorneys are busier than ever. Employment discrimination charges soared to an unprecedented level last year – up 15 percent from the previous year, according to newly-released numbers. (Lawyers USA)

Safe food vow: President Obama promised to reorganize the nation’s fractured food-safety system, calling inadequate inspections “a hazard to the public health.” (NYT)

Ginsburg hints at soon-to-come Supreme Court vacancy

March 13, 2009

rbginsburgJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hinted today that a vacancy could soon come up on the U.S. Supreme Court. But she didn’t say just who might be leaving.

In recent months, speculation has swirled over the possibility of Supreme Court retirements, fueled by the election of President Barack Obama and issues with several liberal-leaning Justices (Justice John Paul Stevens is 89, Ginsburg herself is a two-time cancer survivor, and Justice David Souter is said to be totally over the whole Washington thing).

Today Ginsburg threw more fuel on the rumor fire during an event at New England Law in Boston, according to the AP. Noting that the justices only take official pictures together when a new member is added, Ginsburg said: “We haven’t had any of those for some time, but surely we will soon.”

The 76-year-old justice didn’t elaborate, nor did she take questions from reporters at the event. But she did speak to students about a host of things, from words of wisdom that retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a fellow cancer survivor, gave her, to the fact that Souter took her to the opera when her husband was ailing. “He never goes out, so people were amazed to see him,” Ginsberg said, according to The Boston Globe.

And she used the opportunity to show she is indeed a funny justice. “If I could have asked God to give me any talent in the world, I would never have been a lawyer, I’d be a great diva,” she said.

How not to make an apology

February 23, 2009

There are a few things political types may want to avoid, if at all possible – like, say, predicting the imminent death of a Supreme Court Justice. Things like that tend not to go over well.

But just in case you slip up and do it anyway, always know the best next course of action is to issue a quick, heartfelt apology.

bunningPerhaps that was the intent of Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, who apologized this afternoon for a speech he gave over the weekend in which he gave Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg no more than nine months to live. In case you weren’t sure, Bunning is not a doctor.

As readers of this blog or of just about other news outlet know, Ginsburg underwent pancreatic cancer surgery almost three weeks ago. But luckily, tumor was found early enough to give her a much better prognosis that most cancer patients, who often find the illness only after it has spread.

Anyway, today Ginsburg returned to the bench as spry as ever, just as word of Bunning’s comments hit he newsstands.

And today Bunning issued an apology.

“I apologize if my comments offended Justice Ginsberg,” the statement released by his Senate office read. “That certainly was not my intent. It is great to see her back at the Supreme Court today and I hope she recovers quickly. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.”

Senator, FYI, her name is Ginsburg.