When to Step Down: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Supreme Court


  • Meghan Kearney Tulane University


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a pioneering woman lawyer, legal scholar, and judge for over five decades. In 2013 Ginsburg celebrated two important milestones—20 years serving on the Supreme Court, and her eightieth birthday—and faced an important decision: Should she retire from the bench? This was a question not only of personal preference, but also of politics. The federal court system purports itself to be apolitical, but its decisions have far-reaching political implications and it is staffed by human beings, none of whom are without bias. As a liberal justice, would it be better for the court, and for Ginsburg’s legacy, to retire under democratic President Barack Obama, or to continue to serve for as long as possible regardless of who would appoint her successor? Ginsburg’s decision was weighed down by her position as the second ever female Supreme Court justice, and the possibility that her successor might not be another woman. She also had to contend with societal norms that expected women to forbear any personal ego and to bow to the majority opinion that would see her retire.


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