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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg under fire for 'dumb' Trump criticism

Donald Trump is calling on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to resign for her "dumb" political comments about him. Ginsburg sparked the feud when she shared her personal views on him in interviews, which legal experts say crossed the line.

'Her mind is shot,' presumptive Republican nominee says in calling for Supreme Court judge to resign

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, are feuding this week after Ginsburg made critical comments about him in interviews and he responded by saying she should resign. (Cliff Owen and Randall Hill/Associated Press)

They don't call her "Notorious RBG" for nothing. The 83-year-old U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was given the nickname by her cult-like following of fans, is living up to her reputation by injecting herself into the 2016 presidential campaign and starting a feud with Donald Trump.

"He is a faker," she said of the presumptive Republican nominee in an interview with CNN on Monday.

"He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego."

Ginsburg went on to say the press has been too easy on Trump when it comes to his refusal to release his tax returns, as is customary for presidential candidates.

It was the latest in a series of Trump-related criticism by the liberal-leaning Ginsburg in recent days. In an interview with the New York Times, the judge said she "can't imagine what the country would be" with Trump as president. She made a similar comment to the Associated Press.

Her comments have incited debate about whether she crossed a line and if so, what the impact will be on her reputation, the court, and the campaign. A good portion of the reaction has been that it's no surprise she thinks these things about Trump, but she shouldn't have said them out loud.

Trump, no stranger to taking on judges, is fighting back by describing Ginsburg's conduct as "highly inappropriate" and a "disgrace" to the court. He's calling on her to apologize — and quit.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is drawing criticism this week for her negative remarks about Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

"Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me. Her mind is shot — resign!" he wrote on Twitter.

Ginsburg, who was appointed by then-president Bill Clinton in 1993, has a reputation for being blunt and outspoken. But weighing in with criticism of a presidential candidate in the midst of a campaign takes her flair for frankness to an "unprecedented" level, legal analysts say.

No code of conduct

Arthur Hellman, a judicial ethics expert at the University of Pittsburgh's law school, said in an interview that no Supreme Court justice in history has ever injected himself or herself into the political process like this and that it's "very troubling from an ethical perspective."

"Judges are supposed to stay out of politics and above politics," Hellman said.

What they are supposed to do and what they are required to do are two different things, however, because while Ginsburg may have broken protocol, she technically didn't break any of the Supreme Court's rules, he explained.

Unlike lower court judges, they are not bound by a code of conduct that instructs them not to share their political views, nor is there a disciplinary body where people can lodge complaints. They could be threatened with impeachment but that would be an extreme measure.

"What makes it so disappointing and disturbing is she knows there is no process for disciplining her. There can be no consequences other than the court of public opinion and apparently she doesn't care about that," he said.

Hellman said this clash with Trump and the controversy it's provoked is now associated with Ginsburg's reputation and legacy on the bench, and that it will cast a shadow over her long and respectable career.

"She will be remembered, for a while at least, as the justice who tried to interfere in a presidential election," he said.

Richard Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota's law school who served as chief ethics lawyer to former president George W. Bush, doesn't think this will have a huge effect on Ginsburg's legacy but he is concerned about the feud's impact on the court.

"She's putting the court in a precarious position," said Painter.

The outcome of the 2000 election between Bush and Al Gore, for example, was decided by the Supreme Court. What if that kind of scenario arises again this fall?

Ammunition for Trump

"We need to have a Supreme Court that can speak with authority if called upon to referee any aspect of this election. Or, if he is elected president, to tell him what he can and cannot do as president — and that authority must be beyond reproach," said Painter.

Trump has been involved in hundreds of lawsuits during his business career and is known to accuse judges of being biased against him.

Judge Gonzalo Curiel is handling the civil fraud lawsuits against Trump University and was the most recent target before Ginsburg. Trump suggested he is biased because of his Mexican heritage, called him "hostile" and said he should be "ashamed of himself."  

Donald Trump has clashed with judges before, accusing them of being biased against him. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Hellman, who notes he is a Republican, said Trump has already shown little respect for the judiciary and this dustup with Ginsburg gives him more ammunition not only to go after her, but other judges, he said.

"Her comments are playing into his hands," said Painter.

Recusing herself from any cases involving Trump in the future is not the answer, he said, what she should immediately do is recognize she was wrong and apologize for publicly expressing her political preferences.

The Supreme Court was already figuring into the election even before this conflict. Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly died in February and the Republican-controlled Senate is refusing to have confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's chosen replacement.

Republicans argue it should be up to the next president to fill the vacancy. Given the ages of some of the current justices, the next president could make several appointments during his or her term. In May, Trump took the unusual step of releasing a list of people he would consider choosing if he is elected.

That's something Ginsburg is clearly hoping he doesn't have a chance to do and that it will be up to Hillary Clinton instead to shape the Supreme Court.

With a smile she told The Associated Press, "It's likely that the next president, whoever she will be, will have a few appointments to make." 

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