U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made it clear that she does not plan to retire any time soon, nor does she expect challenges to health care legislation to arrive quickly for the high court's review.
In an interview with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg at George Washington University last week, the 77-year-old cancer survivor also talked about her career as a justice and how she gets along with her colleagues.
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton and began serving in 1993.
One of the nice perks about this job is that we get to choose paintings from the storage supply of the National Gallery, the Museum of American Art, the Hirshhorn.
I had a wonderful painting from the Museum of American Art by Josef Albers. It was taken away for a traveling exhibition and I'm told that it will come back to me sometime in 2012. So I am certainly not going to retire before I get my Albers back.
I think another answer I can give you is I was appointed at age 60, the same age that Louis Dembitz Brandeis was when he was appointed the court. He stayed until he was 83. So I do have a way to go.
He makes me smile, sometimes even laugh. You know he's a very amusing fella. He's very smart. He's a damn good writer. . . . Our friendship does go back a long way, and we genuinely care about each other. When I had diverticulitis, I was very sick, and I was in a hospital on the island of Crete. And he was the first one to call to ask how I was.
Speaking of health care, Totenberg asked how quickly the Supreme Court might hear cases related to President Obama's health care legislation. Ginsburg described a deliberative process that would have the cases "travel slowly" to the Supreme Court.
"The court itself is a reactive institution," she said. "We don't decide, 'We better get that health care case sooner rather than later.' We wait until the case goes through the ordinary route. That is something that many people don't understand. We have no agenda on the court. We just react to petitions that are presented to us."
The ordinary route for a federal case would be to start in District Court, then move to the three-judge panel on the federal Court of Appeals, sometimes to the full Court of Appeals and then finally to the Supreme Court.
Ginsburg cited the Pentagon Papers as an exception, along with President Harry Truman's attempt to take over steel mills. "But in most cases," she said, "the travel is rather slow."
Ginsburg believes this process leads to the best possible judgment. "We do so much better when we have the views of other federal judges who are certainly no less qualified than we are," she said. "Then we have the range of views before us and we can make a better informed decision."
A Washington Post editorial agrees with Ginsburg's assessment: "Although it is a near certainty that the law's status will ultimately be determined by the high court, the justices would benefit from the considered judgment of appellate courts. Rushed cases make bad law."
Instead, the Post suggests, the appeals courts could fast track the cases and consider them more quickly.
Virginia's Court of Appeals has agreed to do so, after the state's Attorney General requested an expedited review.
District Judges in Virginia and Florida have ruled the new health care law unconstitutional, while District Judges in West Virginia and Michigan have upheld it.
You can view a portion of Totenberg's conversation with Ginsburg below.
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