Justice Samuel Alito made a public show of exasperation on the bench Monday. While Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was reading from her dissent in a couple of cases about employment discrimination—cases in which Alito wrote the majority opinions—“Alito pursed his lips, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head ‘no,’ ” as Garrett Epps wrote for the Atlantic. This does not fit with Supreme Court decorum, but then it was also indecorous of Alito to shake his head, raise his eyebrows, and mouth “not true” during President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union. Decorum isn’t his thing.
It’s hard to defend rudeness. But I don’t agree with Epps (who I know and respect) that “the offense against decorum is greater when the object of scorn is a woman 17 years his senior.” I know that’s meant to be chivalrous, but really, what does Ginsburg’s age and gender have to do with it?
On Jezebel, the ladies have Ginsburg’s back. “YOU LEAVE RUTH BADER GINSBURG ALONE, SAMUEL ALITO!” wrote Erin Gloria Ryan, and a commenter (with the perfect name of “paranoid_shiksa_feminista”) chimed in to say: “YOU DO NOT GET TO TALK TO MY PRETEND GRANDMA IN THIS WAY. I WILL KICK YOUR ASS, SIR. I MEAN IT.”
OK, that’s pretty cute, and so is the GIF next to it of Ginsburg with a sparkly tiara. But I just want to say that Ginsburg is one justice who can defend herself. I don’t care how old she is: This is the woman who litigated her way to some of the biggest feminist victories of the 1970s. In the dissent she read from Monday, she called on Congress to fix the misinterpretation of Title VII (the federal anti-discrimination law) she thinks Alito made, in which as per usual he sided with business interests over workers. Ginsburg’s last shout-out to Congress, in the case of Lilly Ledbetter, led President Obama to sign a law that cleaned up the mess made by another wrongheaded Supreme Court decision, also in the area of discrimination law, on his first day of office.
Jeffrey Toobin thinks the politics in Washington aren’t as hospitable to Ginsburg this time. Maybe not. But she is a fiercely outspoken judge and public person. She can take a little rudeness from Alito in stride.