Justice Ginsberg Has Reached Her “What The Hell” Stage, But That Doesn’t Mean It Can Extend To Ethics

ginsberg-jabot

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.)

Wednesday morning, following the election of Donald Trump, an event that she had earlier told an interviewer would cause her to move to New Zealand, Ginsburg sported the “dissent jabot” on the bench, though no opinions were being read. Reporters quickly picked up on the code, and took the choice as an expression of opposition to Trump’s election, which it almost certainly was. She has not disabused anyone of the assumption.
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.

The gesture is also unprofessional and a breach of the duty of all high government officials to publicly show respect and support for each other. For Ginsberg to “shout out” her dissent to a Presidential election (it doesn’t matter if it is code or not) in such a prominent public forum intentionally endorses divisiveness, at a time when divisiveness is a real threat to national stability.Naturally, her feminist, progressive and Democratic fans cheer this defiance, because they don’t know judicial ethics from corn flakes. Heck, after defending Hillary Clinton for so long, they don’t know any ethics from corn flakes. Justice Ginsberg knows, however. She just doesn’t care any more.

Ah, what the hell?

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The Perplexing Ethics Of Shorts In Courts

Interestingly, the words aren't necessary. The tee shirt is enough.

Interestingly, the words aren’t necessary. The tee shirt is enough.

The New York Daily News thought it was newsworthy that a North Carolina judge objected to a man appearing in court for a hearing dressed in a tee shirt and shorts. “Why are you going to show up to court dressed like that based on these charges?” the judge asked. Not getting what she felt was an appropriate response, she postponed the hearing. The offense involved was a particularly horrific one:Matthew Deans, 28, of Wilmington, N.C.,was charged with two misdemeanor counts of death by vehicle and two other charges in connection with the crash. He is free on $10,000 bail while awaiting trial.

On May 23, Deans’ commercial box truck allegedly ploughed into the back of the car belonging to Hadley and Gentry Eddings,, who were stopped at a traffic light. The Eddings’ 2-year-old son was killed in the crash, and an infant delivered by emergency ceasarian section in the hours after the wreck died as well.

For reasons that are not germane to this post, I’ve been in court a lot lately. When I was taking criminal defense cases, I carefully monitored the in-court attire of my clients, emphasizing that it was crucial for them to display respect for the judge and the system, as well as appropriate appreciation of the seriousness of the offenses charged. Almost without exception, defendants appearing in court today are in casual, often sloppy attire. This shows the stupidity of those appearing, the incompetence of their attorneys, and irresponsible upbringing, schooling and socialization. Continue reading