The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The brazen claim by Trump and Tucker Carlson about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish

They suggest that she didn’t actually ask for the next president to pick her replacement. But her granddaughter is on the record, and it’s entirely in keeping with the justice’s past comments.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson in March 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Republicans are pressing forward with replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, despite their 2016 statements that such confirmations shouldn’t take place in presidential election years.

But beyond the hypocrisy angle, there’s this: What they are doing is expressly against the dying wishes of Ginsburg, who said she wanted the winner of the November election to choose her replacement. Confronted with that unhappy reality, they’ve turned to a novel strategy: suggesting that Ginsburg’s granddaughter is a liar.

Both President Trump and Fox News host Tucker Carlson cast doubt Monday that Ginsburg had actually said any such thing.

Trump suggested without any evidence that the dying wish might actually have been crafted by Democratic leaders in Congress: “I don’t know that she said that or was that written out by Adam Schiff and [Charles] Schumer and [Nancy] Pelosi. … So that came out of the wind, let’s say. I mean, maybe she did or maybe she didn’t.”

Carlson, meanwhile, said flatly that he doesn’t believe Ginsburg actually dictated this message: “We don’t know actually what Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s final words were. Did she really leave this world fretting about a presidential election? We don’t believe that for a second."

The thing is, though, this isn’t some anonymously sourced claim. Although NPR initially reported it as such, Ginsburg’s granddaughter Clara Spera, whom NPR said wrote down Ginsburg’s wishes, has confirmed it on the record. NPR reporter Nina Totenberg also said Monday that she confirmed the dying wish with Ginsburg’s doctor.

To argue that Ginsburg actually didn’t say this, then, is to suggest that her grieving granddaughter’s first major action upon her grandmother’s death was to lie about her grandmother’s dying wish. That’s a pretty stunning charge.

An equally big point, though, is that despite Carlson’s protestations, it’s eminently believable that Ginsburg would say something like this. Not only had she been more outwardly political than most Supreme Court justices, but she actually had weighed in on precisely this issue before — in 2016, when Republicans declined to take up Merrick Garland’s nomination to the court.

That’s their job,” Ginsburg told the New York Times back then, when asked whether Garland deserved hearings. “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being president in his last year.”

Ginsburg’s dying wish was certainly different from what she said should occur in 2016 — perhaps reflecting the standard the GOP effectively changed — but it’s not as though she had stayed out of this issue.

Ginsburg also went so far in criticizing Trump in 2016, in fact, that she was forced to apologize for it. She had called him a “faker” and said: “He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that.”

In her apology, she said: “On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised, and I regret making them. Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future, I will be more circumspect.”

Ginsburg also told the Times specifically that she worried about Trump’s effect on the Supreme Court.

“I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” she said. “For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that.”

So it’s evident that she was concerned about what Trump would mean for her institution, and she publicly disagreed with how the GOP previously handled its “advice and consent” role. It’s hardly a stretch to believe, from there, that she would make this kind of dying wish.

Whether that kind of thing is appropriate for Supreme Court justices to do, of course, is another matter entirely — just as her 2016 comments at times went too far, by her own admission. But it’s entirely in keeping with what she had said previously. And to accuse her family of inventing such a thing upon her death — with zero evidence — is both brazen and alogical.

That said, this isn’t about proving anything; it’s about injecting doubt, however dubiously.