WashPost Offers Gushes for Justice Ginsburg -- But Wonders, Isn't She Over the Hill?

Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine offered a cover story on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with these words on the cover: “Ginsburg’s Decision: She hears the calls to step aside, but she isn’t ready.”

Post high-court reporter Robert Barnes channeled a debate between liberals, and at least he admitted she is “leader of the court’s liberals.” One woman said “We need her to stay forever,” and her companion said “Or leave right now.” Sometimes the story sounded like a polite shove out the door:

Ginsburg has appeared frail for years and battled cancer twice, early-stage colon cancer in 1999 and early-stage pancreatic cancer in 2009,” Barnes reported. “She moves slowly, often with her head down, and speaks deliberately, with pauses that leave listeners wondering if she has finished her thought....

She has ended at least two terms with broken ribs from falls. And at last year’s State of the Union address, cameras caught Ginsburg, dressed in black robe and sparkly necklace she received as one of Glamour magazine’s women of the year, asleep.

This was balanced by praise for Ginsburg’s towering acumen -- not from "objective" NPR reporter Nina Totenberg, who offered the Ginsburg tribute at Glamour's Women of the Year festivies, but from her colleagues:

She is active at oral argument and is usually the first to pose a question. Her reputation is as the justice who is most familiar with the details of a case and quick to call out an attorney who she believes is shading the facts. In the most recent term, Ginsburg wrote opinions at a faster clip than any of her colleagues.

“We all laugh about how fast she is. And her work is just awesomely good,” said Elena Kagan, who, at 53, is the court’s newest and youngest justice. “In my book, she’s the consummate judicial craftsman, and I learn something from her every time we sit.”

There’s two of her colleagues in the story. Antonin Scalia is also brought in to praise Ginsburg and set up the notion of a “renaissance” of Ginsburg:

“She has a public image of being dour, and, you know, she’s not like that. ... I mean, she can be tough; you don’t push her, especially on those issues she cares a lot about. But she’s otherwise a very gentle, likable and sunny person.”

There is something of a Ginsburg renaissance at work. Her willingness to take on the conservatives on the court has delighted liberals, who never thought she was quite liberal or bold enough. Students pack her appearances at law schools. The slightly profane Ruth Bader GinsBlog praises her every move; “Notorious R.B.G.” T-shirts are available online.

There’s even a new opera called “Scalia/Ginsburg” in the works. So the story represents both of the liberal views: She’s the “pioneering lawyer for women’s rights” that liberals love, and she’s the over-the-hill grandma who needs to retire. But liberals would like to say that in a nice way.

Tim Graham's picture