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The gerontocracy

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This interview with RBG is a depressing read.

Some lowlights:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in an interview Tuesday that she does not favor proposals put forth by some Democratic presidential candidates who have advocated changing the number of Supreme Court justices if the Democrats win the presidency.


Ginsburg, who got herself in trouble criticizing candidate Donald Trump in 2016, this time was critical not of any particular Democratic contender, but of their proposals to offset President Trump’s two conservative appointments to the court.


“Nine seems to be a good number. It’s been that way for a long time,” she said, adding, “I think it was a bad idea when President Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the court.”

Wow that’s a super compelling argument right there. Note too the classic NPR framing in which the outright thievery of the seat Gorsuch now occupies — which was of course the impetus for the Court-expansion proposal — is passed over in the most demure silence.

Ginsburg doesn’t like term limits for SCOTUS justices either, claiming — very dubiously — that term limits would require a constitutional amendment. It’s perfectly possible to craft a statute that both adheres to the life tenure requirement for federal judges, and still limits the number of voting SCOTUS justices, while also making the appointments process more democratic, by ensuring that each president gets the same number of appointments per term.

I can’t think of a single cogent objection to such a reform, other than “it’s unconstitutional,” which is functionally speaking indistinguishable for saying it’s a bad idea (the meaning of the Constitution is a socially-constructed artifact, not an objective external fact about the world).

Getting back to Court expansion:

Roosevelt’s proposal would have given him six additional Supreme Court appointments, expanding the court to 15 members. And Ginsburg sees any similar plan as very damaging to the court and the country.

“If anything would make the court look partisan,” she said, “it would be that — one side saying, ‘When we’re in power, we’re going to enlarge the number of judges, so we would have more people who would vote the way we want them to.’

I find it sociologically fascinating that elite law schools and the hyper-elite institutions into which their graduates are sometimes funneled are over time able to combine to produce this level of cognitive damage in very smart people. (I don’t doubt for a moment that Ginsburg is speaking sincerely here about the non-partisan nature of the SCOTUS).

Recall that RBG was around for Bush v. Gore. What about that?

“The court has no troops at its command,” Ginsburg pointed out, “doesn’t have the power of the purse, and yet time and again, when the courts say something, people accept it.”

She recalled Bush v. Gore, the controversial case in which the Supreme Court stopped a Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election.


“I dissented from that decision,” Ginsburg said. “I thought it was unwise. A lot of people disagreed with it. And yet the day after the court rendered its decision, there were no riots in the streets. People adjusted to it. And life went on.”

How is the fact that there was no civil unrest after five members of the SCOTUS stole the presidency via farcically bad legal arguments an unimpeachably good thing? Here again we see the institutional effects of socialization processes that get very smart people to accept completely axiomatically the very dubious principle that the only possibly defensible violence is state violence, aka “the law.” But in any event, if the only choices are court-packing or presidency-stealing by an unpacked court, I know which one I favor.

Ginsburg also makes it clear that she sees the question of when she should retire as purely a matter of whether she’s healthy enough to do the job and continues to want to do it. This is of course extraordinarily irresponsible, but again, it’s a predictable consequence of the ideological distortion that allows her to actually believe she’s part of a trans-political non-partisan institution:

Like other members of the current Supreme Court, liberal and conservative alike, Ginsburg rebuts the notion that the court is a partisan institution.


Yes, it is definitely more conservative than she would like, and, yes, she has strong disagreements with some of her colleagues on some issues. But overall, she maintains that the justices are working well together.

That’s just awesome that the inter-personal relationships inside your cozy little lifetime membership club aren’t being strained by a little thing like creeping ethno-nationalist fascism. It’s important to focus on what’s really important here after all.

“I can say that my two newest colleagues are very decent and very smart individuals,” she said Wednesday at an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by Duke Law as she answered questions from Neil Siegel, a law professor and one of her former law clerks.

You can say a lot of things.

Among other things, this train wreck is a product of the sheer insanity of having the country run increasingly by people who make the Politburo look like a collection of wild and crazy guys.

80somethings shouldn’t be in positions of political power for an endless number of reasons. It’s not just that the world has changed radically since 1956, when Ginsburg was one of nine women in a 500+ member Harvard Law School first-year class (and where she was asked by Dean Erwin Griswold why she was taking up a man’s spot in that class).

It’s that it has changed radically since 1993, when she was confirmed by the Senate by a 96-3 vote. If SCOTUS justices had renewable terms, Ginsburg today would of course get exactly zero votes from Republican senators to stay on her beloved non-partisan court.

Her failure to resign in 2014, which was most likely the last time the Democrats will have held both the presidency and the Senate during her tenure on the SCOTUS, was a deeply selfish and politically indefensible act (the exact same thing can and should be said about Breyer of course). But because elite legal institutions are ideological distortion factories, this sort of selfishness and reckless irresponsibility is all too easy to justify in the minds of the people who allow themselves to indulge in it.

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