Justice Ginsberg has been speaking out lately in intemperate fashion, first about Donald Trump, then about Colin Kaepernick. In both cases she received immediate criticism and issued apologies. It’s clear, however, that the liberal feminist icon, now 84 and in ill health, has reached the point in life where she feels she doesn’t need to be especially vigilant about what she says, a bit like Estelle Getty’s character Sophia on “The Golden Girls.” After all, what can anyone do to her?
Now that would normally be the time where ethics are paramount: ethics are what you do when you know you can get away with it (among other handy definitions). Ginsberg is a member of the one court that has no official Code of Judicial Ethics, but since it is the highest court in the land, its judges are obligated to be exemplars, not rebels.
But what the hell. Justice Ginsberg affects ornate jabots when she is on the bench: they spruce up the unisex black judicial robes. In 2014, she revealed that some of them have special significance. She wears one Jabot, for example, when she is part of a majority which is about to deliver its opinion. She wears another when she is dissenting from the majority opinion. (That’s it above.)
Cute, clever, unprovable, and unethical. It would have been a clear breach of decorum, independence and judicial dignity for Ginsberg to wear a Hillary button on her robes, or to sport any political statement. Judges typically oppose lawyers, clients and witnesses from bringing politics into court. For a judge to do it is asking for an official reprimand. For a Supreme Court Justice to do it, it doesn’t matter what the message is, shows a lack of respect for her own profession, as well as a lack of self-control.
Ah, what the hell?