WASHINGTON – For more than a decade, audiences and interviewers have had one pressing question for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: When will you retire?
The question used to be whether the now 85-year-old liberal justice would let President Barack Obama choose her successor. Now it’s whether President Donald Trump might, giving conservatives an even stronger hold on the court. Ginsburg, the court’s oldest current member, has used a variety of practiced answers to the retirement question over the years. They all boil down to the same thing: She isn’t ready to go.
On Sunday, Ginsburg reminded a New York audience that her former colleague Justice John Paul Stevens was 90 when he retired in 2010. “My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years,” Ginsburg said, according to a CNN report .
Ginsburg has referenced Stevens in discussing retirement before, going back to at least 2015 . Here are some of the other ways she’s answered the retirement question over the years:
THE LOUIS BRANDEIS ANSWER
Before making Stevens part of her retirement question response, Ginsburg used a different justice: Louis Brandeis. Questions about retirement began when she turned 70, Ginsburg has said, and Brandeis became part of her “stock answer.” Ginsburg would note that she and Brandeis, the court’s first Jewish justice, were both appointed at 60. He stepped down at 82. She’d say she intended to stay at least that long.
Shortly before her 82nd birthday, Ginsburg said that using Brandeis as a comparison was “getting a little uncomfortable.” Having outlasted him, it’s Ginsburg who now holds the record as the longest-serving Jewish justice.
If she serves on the court through her 91st birthday in 2024, she’ll hold another record: the oldest person to ever serve on the Supreme Court. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the current record holder, retired two months shy of his 91st birthday in 1932.
THE ARTWORK ANSWER
A lover of the arts, Ginsburg for a time used a painting to talk about her future on the court. Her Supreme Court office is decorated with borrowed artwork, and some years ago, one of the paintings was used as part of a traveling exhibition. The work by German emigre artist Josef Albers was gone about eight years but has since returned, Ginsburg has said. During that window, she would say things like: “If anyone asks how long I’ll be here, at least until my Albers comes back.”
THE FULL-STEAM ANSWER
As she approached her 80th birthday in 2013, Ginsburg told an audience : “I will stay in this job as long as I can do it full steam.” For the last five years, it has been one of her go-to phrases in discussing retirement. She has also said she will do the job “as long as I think I have the candlepower.”
But the full-steam answer has had staying power. Earlier this year, during an appearance in Washington, she noted that many people have asked when she intends to step down. She detailed some of her previous canned responses, noting her Brandeis and painting answers. Those answers no longer work, she said, before adding: “So I’m just candid, and I say: ‘As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here.’ “