Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Trump, Kaepernick and her lifelong love of the law

Katie Couric
Global Anchor

By Sarah B. Boxer

They don’t call her the “Notorious RBG” for nothing.

In “My Own Words,” a new compilation of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s writings over the course her lifetime, the vim and vigor that she is famous for expressing from the Supreme Court bench is just as apparent in her high school editorials.

Ginsburg has spent decades weighing in on issues most important to her — such as gender and religion — and in a new interview with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, she did not mince words when weighing in on the current election, the state of the court and controversy surrounding the national anthem.

With more and more football players across the country refusing to stand for the national anthem before games, Justice Ginsburg called the protest “dumb and disrespectful.”

When asked by Couric how she feels about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and others athletes, refusing to stand for the anthem, Ginsburg replied, “I think it’s really dumb of them.”

“Would I arrest them for doing it? No,” Ginsburg elaborated. “I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”

Slideshow: The Katie Couric interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Behind the scenes >>>

Couric then asked, “But when it comes to these football players, you may find their actions offensive, but what you’re saying is, it’s within their rights to exercise those actions?”

“Yes,” said Ginsburg. “If they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive. If they want to be arrogant, there’s no law that prevents them from that. What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”

Kaepernick has said that his bended knee during the national anthem before games is to protest wrongdoings perpetrated against African-Americans and other minorities in the U.S. The stance has outraged many — even President Obama has called it “messy.”

Ginsburg is no stranger to controversy. This summer, she walked back comments she had made calling Donald Trump a “faker” and criticizing his ego. Trump, in turn, had tweeted out that Ginsburg should resign because “her mind is shot.”

Ginsburg told Couric that she’s not on Twitter and laughed that she would not have responded even if she were.

Couric asked Ginsburg about one of Trump’s signature proposals — banning Muslims from entering the country.

“Can you ban an entire religious group from entering the country? Is that constitutional?” asked Couric.

Ginsburg said she couldn’t answer — as the issue has a real possibility of hitting her desk. “I think the question you ask is a question that could come before this court. I can’t answer a hypothetical question when it may turn into a real question. I can’t preview my decision,” she said.

In “My Own Words,” Ginsburg notes that she remembers, as a young girl, seeing a lawn sign that said “No Dogs or Jews allowed.” Couric asked if the idea of a Muslim ban and some of the other campaign rhetoric brought back memories of that time.

“All I can say is I am sensitive to discrimination on any basis because I have experienced that upset. … I looked at that sign, and I said, ‘I am a Jew, but I’m an American, and Americans are not supposed to say such things,’” she recalled. “America is known as a country that welcomes people to its shores. All kinds of people. The image of the Statue of Liberty with Emma Lazarus’ famous poem. She lifts her lamp and welcomes people to the golden shore, where they will not experience prejudice because of the color of their skin, the religious faith that they follow.”

Ginsburg says she’s troubled, but optimistic, about the rhetoric bandied about in this election cycle. “It’s distressing, but I am also hopeful that it will go away.”

She was also laudatory of Hillary Clinton, saying, “For me, it’s very refreshing to see a woman with the knowledge that she has, with the poise and the — command of language.”

It was Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton, who nominated Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993. Ginsburg told Couric that while the Senate could have held up her confirmation that summer, they didn’t, which “made it possible for me to be onboard in good time before the new term started. I could prepare adequately for the upcoming cases. Any senator could have put a hold on me and kept — kept the confirmation going into the fall, but they didn’t. I think they all appreciated the value of the court starting out the term with a full house.”

Merrick Garland has not been extended the same courtesy. Garland, President Obama’s pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, has not been brought up for a confirmation vote yet, despite the fact that the court’s new session began last week. “I don’t know of another instance where the Senate has said simply, ‘We won’t hold a hearing.’ But as I say, it’s the Senate’s prerogative.”

Ginsburg and Scalia were “best buddies,” and she recounts many fond memories of him in her new book. “No matter how strongly we disagreed,” she told Couric, “he had an uncanny ability to make me smile.”

Despite the sudden loss (“My first reaction was, ‘I was supposed to go first’”), Ginsburg says she is just as excited to start this new term as she was for her first. At 83, she told Couric, her health is good, and she has no plans to retire as of now. She meets with a trainer twice a week for an hour and does planks and push-ups.

The workouts are the only time during the week that Ginsburg watches television (PBS’s “Newshour” is her program of choice). In fact, her television is so seldom used that before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump squared off at Hofstra, she wanted to make sure she’d be able to watch it.

“Before the debate, I had the police officers come to check the television to make sure that it was still working!”