Ginsburg Says She Regrets ‘Ill-Advised’ Comments on Trump

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Is Trump Right to Pick Fight With Justice Ginsburg?
  • She says judges should avoid discussing political candidates
  • Justice had called Trump ‘a faker’ in media interview

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she regrets criticizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, calling her remarks over the past week “ill-advised” and vowing to be more careful in the future.

Ginsburg had drawn rebukes for calling Trump “a faker” and saying she didn’t want to think about the possibility he might be elected. Legal-ethics experts said the comments, made in media interviews, might undermine the court’s authority. Trump had called for Ginsburg to resign.

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

Ginsburg, the 83-year-old leader of the court’s liberal wing, made the remarks about Trump at the end of a Supreme Court term highlighted by victories for affirmative action and abortion rights.

The Supreme Court was already a central issue in the race between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. The vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s Feb. 13 death remains unfilled, and Ginsburg will be one of three justices 78 or older on Election Day.

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Trump, speaking on a radio show hosted by 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, said Ginsburg’s statement "wasn’t really an apology, but you know we have to move on anyway." He added, “I guess she acknowledged she made a mistake, and I’ll accept that.”

Earlier in the week, he used the comments to try to portray her as being unfit to continue serving on the court, saying in a tweet that “her mind is shot.” 

Ginsburg has crafted a reputation over the years as one of the court’s fastest writers and hardest workers. In 2014, she stayed up most of the night to issue a dissenting opinion in a voting-rights case.

The federal code of judicial conduct says judges shouldn’t “publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office.” Although the code doesn’t formally apply to the Supreme Court, the justices follow it as a matter of course.

“Justice Ginsburg has done the right thing by recognizing that Supreme Court justices should not comment on political candidates,” said Steven Lubet, a judicial-ethics scholar at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. “She deserves our respect for withdrawing her earlier statements.”

‘Tone it Down’

Ginsburg’s statement “certainly helps tone it down and takes some ammunition away from Trump,” said Richard Painter, a government-ethics scholar at the University of Minnesota Law School.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, on Thursday called Ginsburg’s original comments “beyond the pale and not called for.”

“What about impartial judges?” Ryan said during his weekly news conference. “It just goes to say that she ought to be impartial.”

Some legal-ethics experts have said Ginsburg might need to disqualify herself in the event of a Supreme Court case that could decide the election. Federal law, however, leaves that decision up to the individual justices themselves.

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