Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court’s foremost champion of civil rights, said the court struck the right balance with two rulings that backed gay marriage without legalizing it across the country.
Gay-rights supporters had urged the court to declare a constitutional right for same-sex marriage nationwide. Ginsburg, who has said the court was too bold in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling, said in an interview that the court was right to take a more limited approach in the gay marriage decisions.
“The court handled both of those cases just the way they should have,” said Ginsburg, who was a leading advocate for women’s rights before she became a judge.
The high court in June ruled on procedural grounds in a California case, letting gay weddings resume there without affecting other states. In the second case, the court struck down a federal law that denied benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Commenting on several topics in the interview, Ginsburg blamed the court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which allowed unlimited corporate campaign spending, for unleashing a torrent of money in the 2012 federal elections.
“You take the limits off and say, ‘You can spend as much as you want,’ and people will spend and spend,” she said in the interview in her chambers in Washington. “People are appalled abroad. It’s a question I get asked all the time: Why should elections be determined by how much a candidate can spend and why should candidates spend most of their time these days raising the funds so that they will prevail in the next election?”
Super-political action committees, political committees, tax-exempt organizations and other non-party entities reported $1.04 billion in spending on independent expenditures and electioneering communications advocating federal candidates in the 2012 election cycle. That’s three times the $338 million reported by groups in the 2008 elections and five times the amount reported in 2004.
Ginsburg, 80, is the court’s oldest justice. President Bill Clinton appointed her in 1993, making her at the time the second woman ever named to the nation’s highest court. She has survived both colon and pancreatic cancer and has broken ribs twice since June 2012.
She said she wants to stay on the court “as long as I can do this job full-steam.” Ginsburg said she won’t rush into retirement simply to ensure that President Barack Obama can appoint her successor before his term ends in January 2017.
“I’m hopeful about the next president,” Ginsburg said, declining to say whether she had a candidate in mind.
Ginsburg has made no secret of her admiration for Obama. A photo of her embracing him at a State of the Union address adorns her office, along with a collection of abstract paintings. She said the president took a “brave” step by pushing for his health-care law, which was enacted in 2010 and upheld by the court last year.
Ginsburg was the lone dissenter this year in the court’s affirmative action ruling, a compromise decision that told a lower court to give tougher scrutiny to a University of Texas policy of considering race as an admissions factor. The court left intact a 2003 decision that said schools seeking to ensure campus diversity could consider race as part of a broad review of an applicant’s file.
She questioned whether the ruling would have a major impact, saying opponents may have trouble recruiting plaintiffs. She also said universities can still put in place the type of affirmative action plan endorsed by Justice Lewis Powell in 1978, when he wrote the pivotal opinion in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision.
“There may not be many challenges ahead to the university plans,” Ginsburg said.