Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the second longest serving justice on the court currently and the oldest justice on the court. At 85 years old, she is five years older than the next oldest justice. With each passing year, talk of whether she should retire continues to grow.
Depending on how one defines—or operationalizes—the goal of Supreme Court Justices, both Democrats and Republicans alike have called or begged her to resign.
This question of operationalization is especially important with the rising level of importance Supreme Court appointments have on voters’ decisions in presidential elections. In 2016 an NBC News exit poll found that 70 percent of voters surveyed considered Supreme Court appointments as an important factor in their decision to vote for one candidate over another.
The Supreme Court is not a partisan political branch. Unlike the Executive or Legislative branches of government, there is no election by the people when it comes to the federal Judiciary. This lack of accountability to the people ensures judges will not fear retaliation for an unpopular judicial opinion resulting from their application and interpretation of the law to a specific case or set of cases.
Separating judges from elections allowed judges to apply the law fairly as they understand it, instead of clouding their judgments with the fear of losing their job with one wrong phrase. Although the Supreme Court itself is not partisan, the processes of filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court is very political and very partisan.
One of the leading reasons people push for Justice Ginsburg to retire is not because of her age, or at least not directly, but because of the political weather of the day. Democrats begged for Ginsburg to retire back when President Obama was in office because they wanted her replaced with a more liberal justice. Republicans hope she retires, or worse, now because they would like to see a more liberal justice like Ginsburg replaced by a more conservative justice chosen by President Trump. While it is understandable to consider political environment when looking to appoint a new justice to a vacancy, it is less important to consider when thinking of whether a justice should retire.
Justices on the Supreme Court should not take into consideration who will be replacing them when deciding whether they should retire, instead they should only consider whether they can continue the work, are their minds sharp and their bodies able—those are the pivotal questions. Once a Justice begins thinking of the political questions of who might replace them, they bend themselves to the political weather of the day.
Justices on the Supreme Court are able to affect the law for decades, changing the climate for an era, and should not be deterred or swayed by the weather of the day. As long as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is of sound mind and able body, she should continue to sit on the bench, regardless of whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican and regardless of which party controls the Senate.