The Ginsburg Standard

‘No Hints, No Forecasts, No Previews’ And No Hypotheticals

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Judge Gorsuch “You’re going to be asked to make promises and commitments about how you’ll rule on particular issues. Now, they won’t necessarily ask you that directly, for instance ‘how will you rule on this issue, or that issue.’ Instead, they’ll probably ask you about old cases, whether they were correctly decided. Of course, that’s another way of asking the very same question. They know that you can’t answer, but they’re going to ask you anyway. I’ve heard Justices nominated by Presidents of both parties decline to answer questions like these. That’s because, as the nominee put it, quote ‘A judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process.’ End of quote. Now you probably know that’s what Justice Ginsburg said at her hearing, and it’s what we call the Ginsburg Standard. The underlying reason for this, of course, is that making promises or even giving hints undermines … the very [judicial] independence that we just talked about.” (U.S. Senate, Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 3/21/17)


THE GINSBURG STANDARD: ‘I Certainly Don’t Want You To Have To Lay Out A Test Here In The Abstract’

SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-VT), Former Judiciary Committee Chairman: “I certainly don’t want you to have to lay out a test here in the abstract which might determine what your vote or your test would be in a case you have yet to see that may well come before the Supreme Court.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 7/21/1993)

  • JUDGE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: “You are well aware that I came to this proceeding to be judged as a judge, not as an advocate. Because I am and hope to continue to be a judge, it would be wrong for me to say or preview in this legislative chamber how I would cast my vote on questions the Supreme Court may be called upon to decide. Were I to rehearse here what I would say and how I would reason on such questions, I would act injudiciously. Judges in our system are bound to decide concrete cases, not abstract issues; each case is based on particular facts and its decision should turn on those facts and the governing law, stated and explained in light of the particular arguments the parties or their representatives choose to present. A judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 7/20/1993)

THE BREYER COROLLARY: ‘I Do Not Think I Should Go Into Those [Matters] For The Reason That Those Are Likely To Be The Subject Of Litigation In Front Of The Court’

FORMER SEN. STROM THURMOND (R-SC): “Judge Breyer, it is likely that Justice Blackmun is most widely known to the public as the author of Roe v. Wade. What was your impression of his majority opinion in that landmark decision? In particular, give us your thoughts on where he draws the line at different points during pregnancy as it relates to the State's interest in the regulation of abortion-related services? For instance, do you agree that the first trimester of pregnancy is distinctive and that the State should not be able to prohibit abortion during that period?” JUDGE BREYER: “You are asking questions, Senator, that I know are matters of enormous controversy... The questions that you are putting to me are matters of how that basic right applies, where it applies, under what circumstances. And I do not think I should go into those for the reason that those are likely to be the subject of litigation in front of the Court.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 7/12/1994)

  • JUDGE STEPHEN BREYER: “Let us imagine, if I am lucky and if you find me qualified and vote to confirm me, I will be a member of the Supreme Court, and, as a member of that Court, I will consider with an open mind the cases that arise in that Court. And there is nothing more important to a judge than to have an open mind and to listen carefully to the arguments... I will try very hard to give you an impression, an understanding of how I think about legal problems of all different kinds. At the same time, I do not want to predict or commit myself on an open issue that I feel is going to come up in the Court.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 7/12/1994)

THE ROBERTS RECAP: ‘No Hints, No Forecasts, No Previews’

JUDGE JOHN ROBERTS: “It's a matter of great importance not only to potential Justices but to judges. We're sensitive to the need to maintain the independence and integrity of the court. I think it's vitally important that nominees, to use Justice Ginsburg's words, ‘no hints, no forecasts, no previews.’ They go on the Court not as a delegate from this committee with certain commitments laid out and how they're going to approach cases, they go on the Court as Justices who will approach cases with an open mind and decide those cases in light of the arguments presented, the record presented and the rule of law. And the litigants before them have a right to expect that and to have the appearance of that as well. That has been the approach that all of the Justices have taken.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 9/13/2005)

  • ABC’S TERRY MORAN: “…this week, in an extraordinary statement, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Democrat nominated by President Clinton, took Roberts’s side.” JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: “Judge Roberts was unquestionably right.” (ABC’s “World News Tonight,” 9/29/2005)

THE SOTOMAYOR SUMMATION: ‘I Can't Engage In A Question That Involves Hypotheses’

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): “Well, then maybe it would be fair for me to ask you what is your understanding of the constitutional limitations then on government entity -- any government entity taking land for public purpose?” JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR: “...As I've indicated to you, opining on a hypothetical is very, very difficult for a judge to do. And as a potential justice on the Supreme Court but, more importantly, as a Second Circuit judge still sitting, I can't engage in a question that involves hypotheses.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 7/14/2009)

  • JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: “What my experience on the trial court and the appellate court have reinforced for me is that the process of judging is a process of keeping an open mind. It's the process of not coming to a decision with a prejudgment ever of an outcome, and that reaching a conclusion has to start with understanding what the parties are arguing, but examining in all situations carefully the facts as they prove them or not prove them, the record as they create it, and then making a decision that is limited to what the law says on the facts before the judge.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 7/14/2009)
  • SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): “My question to the chief justice and now to you is: do you agree with the direction the Supreme Court has moved in more narrowly, interpreting congressional authority to enact laws under the Commerce Clause? Generally, not relating to any one case.” JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: “No, I know. But the question assumes a prejudgment by me of what's an appropriate approach or not in a new case that may come before me as a Second Circuit judge or, again, if I'm fortunate enough to be a justice on the Supreme Court. So it's not a case I can answer in a broad statement.” (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 7/14/2009)

THE KAGAN CONCLUSION: ‘Inappropriate’ For A Nominee ‘Essentially Grading Past Cases’ To ‘Give Any Indication Of How She Would Rule In A Case’

Q: “Was Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), an example of the Supreme Court properly reinterpreting the Constitution in light of its timeless principles?” … ELENA KAGAN RESPONSE: “I do not believe it would be appropriate for me to comment on the merits of Roe v. Wade other than to say that it is settled law entitled to precedential weight.  The application of Roe to future cases, and even its continued validity, are issues likely to come before the Court in the future.” (Senate Judiciary Committee, Kagan: Response To Questions For The Record, P.2, 2010)


THE NEW DEMOCRAT DOUBLE STANDARD: ‘This New Nominee To The Supreme Court Has To Pass A Special Test,’ ‘Special Burden On This Nominee’ To ‘Be More Forthcoming With His Views On Specific Issues’

“Voters from the liberal base apoplectic over Trump's presidency are demanding opposition at any cost.” (“Democrats In A Vise Over Trump's Supreme Court Pick,” AP, 2/2/17)

SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-VT): Judge Gorsuch “…be explicit and forthcoming and definite in your responses... Your nomination also imposes on you a special burden…” (U.S. Senate, Judiciary Committee, Hearing, 3/20/17)

  • LEAHY: “…I want to understand just how his philosophy would have been applied to important cases. For example, how would someone with his philosophy have ruled in cases upholding fundamental rights, such as Miranda rights, a woman's right to make her own medical decisions, and marriage equality?” (Sen. Leahy, Congressional Record, S. 1758, 3/13/2017)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): “This new nominee to the Supreme Court has to pass a special test, in my opinion, of true independence from the president.” (Sen. Schumer, Congressional Record, S.997, 2/9/17)

  • SCHUMER: “…there is a special burden on this nominee to be an independent jurist…” (Sen. Schumer, Congressional Record, S.610, 2/2/17)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT):“I understand that Supreme Court nominees are expected to avoid some questions, especially about future cases. But, we are in a very unusual time. … There is a special obligation for Judge Gorsuch to set the record straight and be more forthcoming with his views on specific issues.” (Sen. Blumenthal, Press Conference, 2/8/17)

  • BLUMENTHAL: “I said to Judge Gorsuch, and I believe that ordinary a Supreme Court nominee would not be expected to comment on issues or political matters or cases to come before the court. But we're in a very unusual situation. … I think he has to be specific, direct, explicit.” (CNN, 2/9/17)


Related Issues: Senate Democrats, Judicial Nominations, Supreme Court