“On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised and I regret making them. Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office,” Ginsburg said Thursday in a statement provided by a court spokeswoman.
Notably, this statement isn’t exactly an apology. Nor was it directed at Trump himself, who on Wednesday demanded contrition from Ginsburg via his bully pulpit on Twitter.
“In the future I will be more circumspect,” Ginsburg added.
It’s uncommon for the Supreme Court to issue a response to media reports from an individual justice, so it’s likely that Ginsburg felt compelled to address the Trump controversy out of deference to the court, which has been under scrutiny from editorial boards and judicial observers on the ethics of a sitting justice speaking out against a candidate for the highest office in Washington.
The spat between the 83-year-old justice and Trump began last week, when The Associated Press asked her about the prospect of a Trump presidency and what it might mean for future appointments to the Supreme Court.
Ginsburg responded with remarkable candor.
“I don’t want to think about that possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs,” she said. A day later, she told The New York Times, “I can’t imagine what this place would be ― I can’t imagine what the country would be ― with Donald Trump as our president.”
“He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego,” she said in that interview, adding that Trump had also “gotten away” with not making his tax returns public.
Trump reacted with characteristic outrage, at first denouncing Ginsburg’s comments as an affront to the Supreme Court as an institution but later making it about himself.
“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,” Trump said, according to The New York Times.
But in a tweet on Wednesday, Trump said he was the one who was owed an apology for Ginsburg’s “misconduct.” Incomprehensibly, he also fired out another tweet where he said that as president he’d “swamp” her with “real judges,” whatever that means.
Even before Trump began lashing out, Ginsburg found herself in the crosshairs of the press, commentators and politicians, who more or less agreed that she stepped over the line for what is appropriate for Supreme Court justices, who are expected to be impartial and above politics.
“For a court that cares a great deal about appearances, this certainly creates the appearance that justices take sides in elections,” a judicial ethics expert told The Huffington Post earlier this week. “And if Trump v. Clinton arises in the fall, I would say that there is at the very least an appearance of bias if Justice Ginsburg participates.”
The chances of such a case reaching the high court are slim, and there is precedent for other justices engaging in partisan politics while on the bench.
But as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick points out, it’s possible that Ginsburg broke norms and said what she did because Trump is truly an unprecedented candidate, and because the Senate is in the midst of an unprecedented blockade of a Supreme Court nominee ― circumstances that could pose a threat to the judiciary itself.
“Notorious RBG has made the court a front-page story again,” Lithwick wrote on Wednesday, using a popular moniker for the justice. “This is terrible for the court. But the alternative ― more accrued insults and slurs and blows met in silence ― could have been worse.”