Those who came to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s appearance at the American Constitution Society’s convention Saturday night looking for clues about how the court would decide its important remaining cases didn’t find much more than this:
She certainly seemed in a good mood.
The Supreme Court in the next two weeks will announce whether the Affordable Care Act survives a challenge to the subsidies that millions of people use to purchase health insurance, and whether gay couples have a legal right to marry nationwide.
In a gentle interview with her former law clerk and now California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, there was no discussion of Obamacare.
Asked about the public’s rapid acceptance of gay rights, she repeated her view that it was a natural response to gay Americans being more open about their sexuality.
“Gay people stood up and said, ‘This is who I am,’” Ginsburg said, and Americans saw that the person was a neighbor, a child’s best friend or maybe even their own children. They were “people we know and love and respect.”
As she was speaking, the gay pride parade was rolling through downtown just a few blocks away, and the Capital Hilton, where the ACS was meeting, was flying a rainbow flag just below Old Glory.
“The court is not a popularity contest, and it should never be influenced by today’s headlines,” Ginsburg said. But she added that it “inevitably it will be affected by the climate of the era.
“I think that’s part of the explanation of why the gay rights movement has advanced to where it is today — the climate of the era.”
Conservatives have criticized Ginsburg for such comments while the court is considering whether the Constitution forbids states from limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Ginsburg has officiated at several same-sex marriages in places where the unions are legal, leading some to call for her recusal from the case.
There was no criticism from a ballroom packed with the liberal legal establishment and adoring law students who Liu noted regard the leader of the court’s left wing as an icon.
Liu showed slides of T-shirts celebrating the Notorious RBG, as the popular Tumblr account has dubbed her. Another says “You Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth.”
“It’s amazing,” agreed Ginsburg, who was 60 when she joined the court. “An icon at 82.”
Ginsburg said law clerks had to explain that her new nickname was based on the late rapper the Notorious B.I.G., but she noted that they were both “born and bred in Brooklyn.”
Next month the opera “Scalia/Ginsburg,” based on her relationship with her friend and antagonist Justice Antonin Scalia, will get its premiere. And she talked about an upcoming movie that will star Natalie Portman and focus on Ginsburg’s work as a crusading feminist lawyer. At its center will be a gender discrimination case she took on with her late husband, Martin Ginsburg.
Portman told the justice that the project was briefly delayed, Ginsburg said, because the actress had insisted that the director be a woman.