Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Wednesday night defended Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch as "very decent" and "very smart" individuals after one of her former law clerks suggested that new nominees lack personal decency.
Ginsburg's comments turned heads on social media, given the contentious and bitterly personal confirmation hearings last year that Kavanaugh said "destroyed" his family.
At an hourlong question-and-answer session, Duke Law professor Neil Siegel lamented that "nominees for the Supreme Court are not chosen primarily anymore for independence, legal ability, personal decency, and I wonder if that’s a loss for all of us."
Ginsburg shot back, "My two newest colleagues are very decent, very smart individuals." The exchange was first reported by The National Review.
It wasn't the first time that the court's liberal lion defended Kavanaugh. Earlier this month, at a series of events, Ginsburg, 86, praised him for being the first justice to hire an all-female team of law clerks.
“Justice Kavanaugh made history by bringing on board an all-female law clerk crew,” Ginsburg said at an event in New York. “Thanks to his selections, the court has this term, for the first time ever, more women than men serving as law clerks.”
More than 100 protesters were arrested on Capitol Hill during Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, which were rocked by Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Kavanaugh had assaulted her at a high school party decades earlier.
At one tense point in those hearings, California Sen. Kamala Harris, now a presidential candidate, suggested that Kavanaugh had discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe with employees of Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, former personal attorney to President Trump. Harris did not provide evidence supporting her theory.
In another dramatic exchange, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., implied Kavanaugh had been open to racial profiling tactics, citing an email exchange between Kavanaugh and a colleague.
The emails, released later, showed Kavanaugh advocating for race-neutral security screening policies at airports in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, although he said that during an "interim" period before such policies could be implemented, administration lawyers would need to "grapple" with the possibility of considering race during screening.
As for her own tenure on the court, on Tuesday, Ginsburg that she is "very much alive," tamping down concerns that recent health issues could cause her to leave the bench.
"There was a senator, I think it was after my pancreatic cancer [in 2009], who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months," she told National Public Radio. "That senator, whose name I've forgotten, is now himself dead and I am very much alive."
Ginsburg was referring to Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher who served two terms as a Republican U.S. senator from Kentucky between 1999 and 2011. In February 2009, Bunning said in a speech that Ginsburg had "bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from. ... Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live" with pancreatic cancer.
Bunning later apologized for his comments in a statement which misspelled Ginsburg's name. About five months later, Bunning ended his bid for a third term and accused his GOP colleagues of doing “everything in their power to dry up my fundraising.” Rand Paul went on to win the seat in 2010.
Bunning died in May 2017 at the age of 85, months after suffering a stroke.
Ginsburg took a break from the court after undergoing surgery to remove cancerous nodules from her lungs in December 2018, but returned to the bench in February. She also had colorectal cancer in 1999 and had a stent implanted in her heart to open a blocked artery in 2014.
In a speech a little more than a year after Bunning made the remarks Ginsburg said, “I am pleased to report that, contrary to Senator Bunning’s prediction, I am alive and in good health.”
Fox News' Talia Kaplan contributed to this report.