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Justice Ginsburg ought to stay out of politics

Some things are better left unsaid.

Exhibit A: In recent interviews, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed horror at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency: “I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” she told a reporter. “For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate it.”

Ginsburg has earned a reputation for delivering sharply pointed opinions. It’s no secret that her politics are liberal, just as it’s no secret that Clarence Thomas’s are conservative. Despite the court’s partisan divide, however, tradition holds that justices stay above the political fray. And there’s much to be said for keeping up appearances.

The Founding Fathers gave justices lifetime appointments to ensure that they could remain impartial, and the court likes to be seen as studiously neutral in political matters. When the president delivers a State of the Union address, justices sit on their hands in the front row, refusing to applaud anything he says.

It’s a charade, of course, but an important one. The public expects justices to decide cases on the legal merits. And the court’s legitimacy rests on public acceptance of its rulings. The more people see the court as arm of a political party, the more likely they are to resist or ignore its decisions.

To sustain the rule of law, members of the court must respect the public’s expectation of judicial neutrality. If justices wish to increase public transparency of the court’s workings, there are better ways to do it.

Many Republicans are rightly outraged at Ginsburg’s comments, but Democrats should be, too — and they surely would be if the situation were reversed.

Ginsburg’s loose lips should not set a precedent for the court. Publicly or privately, Chief Justice John Roberts ought to make that clear to all current and future members.

Bloomberg View 

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New British prime minister faces some sticky wickets

Americans must congratulate the British Conservative Party in its quick choice of Theresa May as prime minister in the wake of the vote June 23 to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union.

May, 59, on Wednesday replaced David Cameron as prime minister and head of the Conservative Party. He submitted his resignation in the immediate wake of the momentous choice of British voters, by a relatively close 17 million to 16 million, to leave the EU. Cameron had put the referendum on the table in an effort to remain as prime minister last year. In the event, his action proved unnecessary as the Conservatives won a decisive victory in 2015, probably on other issues.

May served as home secretary — in effect, minister of the interior — for six years and as a member of Parliament for 19 years. She studied at Oxford University and has a reputation for being serious and even-tempered, if not charismatic. She became the Conservatives’ first choice to replace Cameron when her final rival for the post, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out of the race for lack of support. Leadsom had blotted her copybook when she made remarks that suggested she thought that she, as a mother, was better qualified to be prime minister than the childless May.

The new British leader has a brutal task ahead of her as she tries to negotiate the United Kingdom’s way out of the EU, retaining the advantages of the relationship while respecting the British electorate’s mandate to leave. She herself had opposed leaving but has pledged to carry out the mandate. Last year, 52.2 percent of the U.K.’s imports came from EU countries and the EU bought 43.5 percent of U.K. exports. Sticky business. In addition, two pieces of the United Kingdom, Scotland and Northern Ireland, voted not to leave the EU and are now thinking about succession from the U.K., another problem for May.

The United States, as it tries to cope with its own divisive issues, will find the U.K. under the new prime minister to be a still-interested partner, but one also intensely preoccupied with EU and internal issues.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 13

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