There’s an old saying that one should refrain from talking about politics or religion in polite company, so it’s best to keep to anodyne subjects to avoid conflict.
This seems like good advice for the Supreme Court, as well.
Anyone who has seen the new “RBG” documentary will recall that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s ill-conceived statements about then-candidate Donald Trump play a pivotal role, demonstrating that the justice, who is treated as a saint for much of the film, is not infallible. Speaking about politics in the heat of the presidential race, not to mention articulating animus toward the now-president, was improper, and Ginsburg rightly apologized, though to this day, she has not done enough, in many minds, to demonstrate she can be impartial on cases in which the president is a litigant.
Unfortunately, the justices aren’t shy about religion either. Last Saturday, Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at the commencement of Christendom College, a Catholic liberal arts school in Front Royal, Va. Court-watchers are well-acquainted with Thomas’ Catholic faith and the role it plays in his life. Yet to those who want to build a 50-foot wall separating church and state (I’d be good with 30), and believe that the First Amendment requires its construction, these types of events make them question Justice Thomas’ impartiality on religious issues that reach the high court.
There are 5,000 other colleges in the U.S. Thomas could be speaking at. Similarly, there are at least 5,000 other topics Ginsburg could have be addressing in 2016 besides the presidential race. And although we know from a source that Justice Gorsuch accepted his invitation to speak at a Fund for American Studies event before he knew it would be at Trump International Hotel in D.C., there are 700 other hotels in the Washington area at which Gorsuch could have delivered his first major address as a justice.
Perception matters a great deal when it’s tied to the integrity and legitimacy of the nation’s highest court. A little effort to avoid politics and religion, then, would go a long way.