Supreme Court justice's candor earns her 'Decoder' title

The short list was short

WASHINGTON, D.C. - This hasn’t been an easy chore, picking the DecodeDC Decoder of the Year 2014.

The criteria are amorphous, but we wanted to honor a public servant who exemplified in 2014 a spirit of intellectual honesty, bluntness, irreverence and service.

The short list was short.

Dick Cheney made the list because his post-heart transplant bluntness has reached unheard of levels for an ex-vice president – or president.  The equally epic lack of intellectual honesty, however, disqualified him.

The sitting vice president also made the list. Joe Biden refreshingly says anything that seems to pop into his head and we admire that in a world of scripts and talking points. But Biden was disqualified because he, well, actually does say whatever pops into his mind.

Every incumbent member of Congress was disqualified, for obvious reasons.

So the winner of the first annual Decoder of the Year Award goes to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Image caption here

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Getty Images

We honor her for the power of her written dissents, her unusual candor in talking about the court and for her firm – some would say stubborn – refusal to retire and make way for someone younger.

Among the most important Supreme Court cases of 2014, and certainly the most high profile, was the Hobby Lobby case. The court’s conservatives ruled that the Hobby Lobby, a business, was not bound by provisions of the Affordable Care Act to provide various forms of  female contraception in its health insurance coverage because doing to so would violate the company’s religious beliefs.

Ginsburg bluntly attacked the idea that a business – a legal entity - can have religious beliefs protected by the Constitution. “In a decision of startling breadth,” Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood,” she wrote, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.”

Ginsburg’s was the loudest and most authoritative protest to a radically new concept of religious freedom established by the Roberts Court.

Ginsburg later told Katie Couric that the men on the court didn’t understand the import of the decision for women.

"Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?" Couric asked Ginsburg about the 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling. 

"I would have to say no," she replied. Couric asked if the five justices had a "blind spot" in their decision and Ginsburg said yes.  That is big-time talking out of school for a Supreme Court Justice.

She also spoke out against the court’s ruling in the Citizen’s United case, which said corporations had a right to free speech akin to individuals and that campaign contributions were a form of free speech. 

“If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be,” she told Jeffrey Rosen of The New Republic.

The Court’s interference with that decision of the political branches seemed to me out of order. The Court should have respected the legislative judgment. Legislators know much more about elections than the Court does… I think members of the legislature, people who have to run for office, know the connection between money and influence on what laws get passed.

As much as the left reveres Ginsburg, many want her to step down while Obama is still in office, so that he can appoint some young justice who can serve for a long time. To that, Ginsburg said “lump it” in her interview with The New Republic.

As long as I can do the job full steam, I will stay here. I think I will know when I’m no longer able to think as lucidly, to remember as well, to write as fast. I was number one last term in the speed with which opinions came down. My average from the day of argument to the day the decision was released was sixty days, ahead of the chief by some six days. So I don’t think I have reached the point where I can’t do the job as well.

One final badge of honor: When the Facebook boy zillionaire that bought The New Republic recently fired its top editors, Ginsburg let it by known she was cancelling her subscription.

At 81, there seems by plenty more of that spunk in her system.

[Also by Dick Meyer: The Axis of Evil is losing spokes]

Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at

Print this article Back to Top