WASHINGTON — As a moderator introduced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Washington on Monday for her first post-election speaking engagement, he said something that caused the sympathetic audience to whoop and holler.
“May you live a thousand years!” he said.
Ginsburg’s future was on the minds of many in the audience during a meeting sponsored by The Jewish Federations. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory at the polls means that if anything were to happen to the 83-year-old justice in the next few years, she might be replaced by a conservative.
The moderator, lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, asked her what the election meant.
Ginsburg, treading carefully, responded, “most immediately a vacancy will be filled.” And then she repeated something she said even before the election when Senate Republicans blocked the nomination hearings of President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
“Eight is not a good number for a multi-member court,” she said.
She also suggested perhaps the legislative branch get moving again. “There is an existing vacancy and President Trump will fill it. Then, perhaps Congress will do some work. One reason the court has not had as many petitions as usual is that there hasn’t been any legislative activity,” Ginsburg said.
Trump’s election and actions by Senate Republicans will have a critical impact on the court, which will likely maintain its conservative majority for years to come. It will also mean that Ginsburg will remain in the minority on some social issues that closely divide the justices.
Some liberals have questioned whether Ginsburg should have stepped down during the Obama administration. In 2014, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, suggested in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that she step down in order to “advance all the things she has spent her life working for.” But she did not heed that advice.
And now, the liberal icon who has inspired generations of young lawyers for her early work on gender discrimination, will likely seek to stay on the bench at least until a Democratic president wins an election.
That will keep her in the spotlight — something she has dominated like no other sitting justice.
On “Saturday Night Live,” for example, Ginsburg has been the subject of a recurring comedy sketch.
Just last weekend actress Kate McKinnon, who plays the justice, joked about the fact that Ginsburg’s plans might have suddenly changed.
“You’re damn right I was gonna retire,” McKinnon/Ginsburg said. She then proceeded to pour vitamins down her throat.
The real Justice Ginsburg, who is a devoted opera fan, had her own appearance Saturday night. She joined the opening night cast of “The Daughter of the Regiment” at the Washington National Opera, playing the Duchess of Krakenthorp in a non-speaking role.
At the curtain call, she wore her costume — a shimmering acid green dress — and she curtsied.
With a broad smile, she looked ready for an encore.