Justice Ginsburg’s Statement of Regret

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave some interviews last week (the Associated Press, CNN, The New York Times) in which she expressed her personal opinion about the prospect of Donald Trump as president. Her comments about him were not kind, and were widely criticized as inappropriate for a member of the Supreme Court. Yesterday, she issued the following statement:

“On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised, and I regret making them. Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future I will be more circumspect.”

The media is referring to this as an apology, but is it a good one? A good apology needs to meet criteria summarized in “the four R’s” – Regret, Responsibility, Repair, and Refrain from repeating that behavior. Her statement basically does that, although it could do a better job.  For example, to characterize her remarks as “ill-advised” implies that someone advised her; she could’ve come up with a stronger adjective, like, “wrong.” And adding the phrase, “in response to press inquiries” almost implies that the media were as responsible as she was, belying the fact that she voluntarily gave these interviews, something justices traditionally refrain from doing.

Peacemaker Ministries uses seven criteria for developing a good apology, and one of them is to “acknowledge the hurt” – in other words, to acknowledge the impact of the offense upon the “victim(s).” Perhaps that’s what’s missing in Justice Ginsburg’s statement, and her subsequent remarks about it – not only does she not acknowledge the personal impact of publicly criticizing someone, she doesn’t acknowledge the impact on her role as justice, and on the whole Supreme Court. One almost gets the sense that she regrets the uproar, but still retains some satisfaction in having spoken her mind.

In the court of public opinion, this statement may not set her free.