A Look-Back on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Relationship with Donald Trump During His Presidency

The second female Supreme Court justice and 45th President of the United States have never minced words about each other.

Election Season 2016

Ruth Bader Ginsberg was nominated to the highest court in the nation by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993. Donald Trump was a reality TV show star and real estate figure, with a worldwide string of hotels.

During the election season, when Ginsberg was asked about then-candidate Trump, she responded: “I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president … For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that.” [The New York Times, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg, no fan of Donald Trump, critiques latest term,” July 10, 2016.] A few days later she doubled down on her comments and went even further, calling him a ‘faker’, expressing disbelief that he had not released his tax returns, and saying “he really has an ego.” [CNN]

Candidate Trump then commented on her comments in a New York Times interview, saying, “I think it’s highly inappropriate that a United States Supreme Court judge gets involved in a political campaign, frankly … I think it’s a disgrace to the court and I think she should apologize to the court. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it… That she should be saying that? It’s so beneath the court for her to be making statements like that. It only energizes my base even more. And I would hope that she would get off the court as soon as possible.” He then followed up his comments with a tweet calling on her to resign.

On her part, Ginsberg then released a statement expressing regret and acknowledging the importance of apolitical behavior for justices, and said, “In the future, I will be more circumspect.”

Indeed, it is historically unusual for a Supreme Court justice to give a personal opinion on any political candidate or process.

The Trump Presidency and Replacement Debate

President Trump took office in January of 2017, at which time Justice Ginsberg had been serving for 23 years. After the election, things between the President and the Justice were relatively quiet. Ginsberg had several trips to the hospital and her health began declining, spurring a debate about the Constitutionality of when and with whom to replace her, were she to pass away before the end of President Trump’s term.

When Justice Ginsberg did pass in September of 2020, it was reportedly her dying wish that her replacement not come until the new president had been sworn in. Many opinions on both sides of the aisle were expressed by a myriad of public figures and politicians, and 200-year-old letters by Presidents were unearthed and interpreted. When the time came for the sitting President to make a decision, he chose to disregard both that historical analysis and the justice’s last words, and expressed doubt in the veracity of Ginsberg’s reported dying wish. After releasing a statement heralding Ginsberg as a ‘titan of the law’ who ‘led an amazing life, he then gave an interview in which he made clear his intention to replace her, stating that he believed that the report that Ginsberg did not wish to be replaced until the next Presidential term (remember, at this point, the election had not been held, so the next President was not yet decided) was a fabrication authored by Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

President Trump went on to nominate Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame law professor, who was confirmed by a purely partisan vote.

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