Ginsburg Goes Rogue

Her comments on Trump went too far.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Some things are better left unsaid. Exhibit A:

In recent interviews, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed horror at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency: “I can’t imagine what this place would be -- I can’t imagine what the country would be -- with Donald Trump as our president,” she told a reporter. “For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be -- I don’t even want to contemplate it.”

Ginsburg has earned a reputation for delivering sharply pointed opinions. It’s no secret that her politics are liberal, just as it’s no secret that Clarence Thomas’s are conservative. Despite the court’s partisan divide, however, tradition holds that justices stay above the political fray. And there’s much to be said for keeping up appearances.

The Founding Fathers gave justices lifetime appointments to ensure that they could remain impartial, and the court likes to be seen as studiously neutral in political matters. When the president delivers a State of the Union address, justices sit on their hands in the front row, refusing to applaud anything he says.

It’s a charade, of course, but an important one. The public expects justices to decide cases on the legal merits. And the court’s legitimacy rests on public acceptance of its rulings. The more people see the court as arm of a political party, the more likely they are to resist or ignore its decisions.

To sustain the rule of law, members of the court must respect the public’s expectation of judicial neutrality. If justices wish to increase public transparency of the court’s workings, there are better ways to do it.

Many Republicans are rightly outraged at Ginsburg’s comments, but Democrats should be, too -- and they surely would be if the situation were reversed.

Ginsburg’s loose lips should not set a precedent for the court. Publicly or privately, Chief Justice John Roberts ought to make that clear to all current and future members.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.