Friday, September 16, 2011

Justice Ginsburg at SF Law Panel:
Gay Rights Yes, Death Penalty No

(Joan Williams, left, poses with Ginsburg before her talk yesterday. Credit: James Block, UC Hastings.)

After being forced to slide down a rubber chute when her plane experienced trouble earlier in the week, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, made it to a law conference here and said a few things on Thursday about gay rights and state-sanctioned executions. From the Chronicle this morning:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking to law students in San Francisco, called Thursday for equality for gays and lesbians and said the court should return to a 1972 ruling that halted executions nationwide.

"We should not be stopped from pursuing whatever talent God has given us simply because we are of a certain race, a certain religion, a certain national origin, a certain gender or gender preference," Ginsburg said at UC Hastings College of the Law. ...

The justices struck down state laws against gay and lesbian sexual activity in 2003 without deciding how to review other laws that treat people differently based on sexual orientation. Referring to that case, Ginsburg said the court "recognized that consensual relations between two people do no harm to anyone and cannot be subject to government prohibitions." ...

How refreshing to read such wisdom about the gays in a mainstream newspaper and from someone with tremendous power. Let's hope her comments echo far and wide beyond the assembled audience she spoke to and the Chronicle's readership.

But Ginsburg's enlightened words were just about gay rights. She also spoke about ending the death penalty:

The subject of capital punishment came up when Hastings Professor Joan Williams, who conducted the 90-minute question-and-answer session, asked the 78-year-old justice what she would like to accomplish in her remaining years on the court.

"I would probably go back to the day when the Supreme Court said the death penalty could not be administered with an even hand, but that's not likely to be an opportunity for me," Ginsburg said.

She was referring to the ruling in a 1972 Georgia case that overturned all state death penalty laws, which had allowed judges and juries to impose death for any murder. ...

Ginsburg described review of impending executions as "a dreadful part of the business," and said she has chosen not to follow the path of the late Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan - who declared in every capital case that they considered the death penalty unconstitutional - so that she could maintain a voice in the debate. ...

Too bad, knowing her opposition to capital punishment, that she probably won't get the chance to rule on abolishing this barbaric practice before retiring or passing away.

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