June 14, 1993: Who is Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

ABC's "Nightline" takes a look at the Supreme Court nominee.
20:41 | 07/09/18

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Transcript for June 14, 1993: Who is Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
She was sol. The announcement the president just main contributes to that end of the days. When women. At least half the talent pool or in our society. Appear in high places. Army as one at a time performers. She was funny mrs. Clinton. Visited the nursery school in the job. And led. There's a one. In the toothbrush. She even brought the president to tears. I have alive thank you. It is to my mother. I pray. That I may be. All that she would have been. Had she lived in an age. When women could aspire and achieve. And daughters are cherished. As much as sun. Tonight after 88 days the president names his nominee to the Supreme Court. Just two way is judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And what happened to the also ran as. This is ABC news. Substituted. Chris Wallace. By most standards the president's nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court today was historic. It was the first such appointment by a democratic president and a quarter century. If confirmed she'll be the second woman ever to sit on the court. And judge Ginsburg has made some history awful all. In the seventies she played a crucial role in the fight for women's rights successfully arguing five landmark cases before the Supreme Court. And yet despite all that that was a cloud over the Rose Garden ceremony today. A sense that President Clinton had once again turn to rare opportunity into a messy and even cruel process. It took him three months to come up with a neck. Until then interior secretary Bruce Babbitt and federal judge Stephen Breyer were reported to be front runners for the Diop. Only to be rejected and publicly embarrassed. And Seles Nightline's Chris Bury reports there are two big stories tonight praise for the president's choice but criticism for how we made it. The president had told aides he was looking for a complete swap a home run someone like Janet Reno would make people sit up and take notice. Ruth Bader Ginsburg a little known federal judge hardly seemed to fit that bill until today. The announcement the president just made. It's significant I believe. Because it contributes to that end of the days. When women. At least half the talent pool or in our society. Appear in high places. Only as one at a time performers. In a simple though elegance speech mrs. Ginsburg were counted her own struggle as a young woman lawyer. My law school class in the late 1950s. Numbered over 500. Not class included less than ten women. As the president said. Not a law firm in the entire city of me off. Big for my employment. As a lawyer. A former law professor appointed to the bench by President Carter judge Ginsburg made her mark arguing for women's legal rights. She won five of six Supreme Court cases. Though Ginsburg supports the right to abortion she is a moderate who was criticized the Roe vs. Wade decision on the ground to reach too far. But today she offered only had sidelined a how she views her role. Chief Justice Rehnquist. Offered one. I keep. In the front of my mind. A judge is bound to decide each case fairly. In a court with the relevant facts and the applicable law. Even when the decision is not. As he put it. What the home crowd. Juan. The president seemingly moved to tears by judge Ginsburg's performance. Bristled with anger when ABC news White House correspondent Brit Hume asked him about the twisted way mrs. Ginsburg got to be there in the first place. That withdraw all of the. When their nomination sir and you're apparent focus on judge Breyer. And your turn. Late it seems to judge Ginsburg. May have created an impression perhaps unfair of a certain zig zag quality in the decision making process here I wonder sir if you could kind of walk us through it. Perhaps disabuse us of any notion you might have along those lines thank you. I have long since given up thought back to disabuse some of you turning any substantive decision into anything but political process. How you could ask a question like that after the statement she just made is beyond me. The process of picking any federal judge let alone a Supreme Court justice of course is rife with politics. And few other presidents have had so much time were taken as much to make up their minds. Justice Byron white announced his retirement in March just so his successor could be confirmed early enough for the coming term. Now going to try to out. Pick a person. Has. Good judgment. Wide experience it and law and the problems are real people. And so what would big heart. Riots but the New York governor thought to be the president's first choice. Removed himself from the running. Not until early this month that White House aides leak the name of interior secretary Bruce Babbitt is the new front runner. Near certain said the Sacramento beat a virtual cinch. But environmentalists happy to have Babbitt in the cabinet pressured the president to keep him there. And some senators complained Babbitt who had never been a judge was too much the politician. When your political figure naturally make more enemies perhaps and you do us a judicial. Figure or a professor. Who you know who who hasn't had to be a better way to. By now White House aides were also pushing Boston appeals judge Stephen Breyer a favorite of Senator Kennedy. And on Friday the president very publicly invited Breyer to discuss the job over lunch. But over the weekend a story surfaced that Breyer to had a minor Zoe Baird problem. Yet failed to pay Social Security taxes for an elderly cleaning woman. Some Democrats worried about how that would look after the botched nominations of Zoe Baird and judge Kimba Wood to be attorney general. We can't afford have a double standard here obviously the same standard have to be applied the meadows why do well on this afternoon senior White House officials insisted Pryor had not lost the appointment for that reason. It was more the judge Ginsburg had personally impressed mr. Clinton during her interview yesterday. Nina Totenberg covered the courts for national public radio. He was wowed by her which I must confess to you I would not have anticipated. In large measure because she's very shy person. Even to different things slightly withdrawn but he found her very. Confident. Centered person was enormously impressed by and their conversation was all backed constitutional law. That maybe so but senators on the Judiciary Committee seemed relieved most of all that Ginsburg seemed to be free of controversy. She is also a woman and a Jew did not hurt I think the Clinton administration. The president wants someone that would be. Least resistant and least. Problematic. And this seemed to fit that bill. And it is an eminent jurist. But others worried about the brutal process the administration's floating of human trial balloon it's indecision. And the inevitable damage to professional reputation. The problem the process now seems to be getting every body that under consideration. Whether it's Bruce Babbitt or Steve Breyer. Really kind of being left out they are in the wind so to speak his every blemish and flaw that they've ever. I had had about the miss brought to public attention. He made but I think most serious lawyers who follow us. Wood will guard to be the right choice so rather than criticizing him for letting a string out. Over a period of weeks and months cannot praise him for saying that once he finally turn his attention tour of he considered only serious cabinets he looked at the right factors in the end he made a superb choice. In the end of course the president may also have chosen the path of least resistance. What does mr. Clinton the former law professor may present questions about politics in his appointment of judge Ginsburg. Mr. Clinton the politician. Knows better. This is Chris Bury for night watch. George Stephanopoulos as president Clinton's senior advisor for policy and strategy senator William Cohen as a Republican member of the senate judiciary commit day. And thinks that although judge Ginsburg is an outstanding choice the process by which she was nominated was flawed. Wild Aniston has covered the Supreme Court since 1958. The last twelve years for the Baltimore Sun. While let's begin by trying to understand judge Ginsburg we've all heard the same lines by now she's a moderate she's a centrist. Help flush that out for us. Weld the remarkable thing about judge Ginsburg is the importance that she had it has paid lawyer. Appearing before the Supreme Court in the early 1970s. Really almost. Revolutionizing. The law of sex discrimination and coming close to bringing about. And equal rights amendment simply by giving the Supreme Court to move in that direction. But want to we have seen and heard from her since President Carter put her on the bench in 1980 he is Tom. It very much different person. He judge who does not believe. With any passion that he and the reform possibilities of the law. Who looks upon the Judith tree. As a somewhat secondary player in the process. An institution that ought more often than not. Defer to the political process. And a judge who seems much most passionately committed to the idea. The judge urged that should give alone and the accommodating to each other and not to speak out too aggressively and public. In opposition to each of those worked. Mr. Stephanopoulos as we all know presidents are often surprised by their Supreme Court nominees but let's assume for the sake of argument the judge Ginsburg does. Exactly what you expect she'll do. Tell us specific areas where you think she'll take the. The court I think the president spoke of that this afternoon when he appointed. Judge Ginsburg first of all when you look at her life's work. He seemed to work of a pioneer. See the work of a pioneer in women's rights. He see the work of a woman whose rooted in the mainstream but is an activist. And now she carried that through in her work with the women's right projects in the 1970s. And in her work. On the court where she's done good work on the issues of standing for the courts finally the issues that Lyle speaks to. The issues of bringing people together of healing our positive not a negative. Right now we have a fractious court we have a fractious society the court should be a place of healing the court should be a place where people are protected. A judge Ginsburg has those skills and those are the kinds of skills the president wanted to bring to the court. Lott let me ask about one specific area there was some concern from abortion rights supporters because of the speech she made earlier this year. Questioning the Roe vs. Wade decision how certain how confident are you that she won't vote to further restrict a woman's right to chips. Judge Ginsburg believes in what in a woman's right to choose I think that that speech has in fact been misinterpreted at times what she said is that it shouldn't be based reevaluation be based solely. On the right to privacy and she bases it on theories of gender discrimination but she believes in the rights issues and shoot a struck down the law which Roe vs. Wade was based on. Senator Cohen I always wonder when both liberals and conservatives are praising a nominee is someone getting fooled here. I don't think so I think in this particular case President Clinton made the right decision I think she's an outstanding nominee from all that I no about her and rather have read about her. I think the process was not a particularly attractive one but I would say you have to go back and look at the context in which the president made this appointment. First think of the budget then think of BTU and then think of wanna go and here. And that I think you'll understand why the president spent so much time reflecting and so when that just reflection start to shift over the line and go to of perhaps either vacillation in terms of some or even the resolute this but I think ultimately. The process warm up pretty ended up with a good product. We who you were saying that the process was not pretty earlier today you said that you were upset at the idea some of these candidates people being floated as trial balloons explained that. Well I was but around this town put awhile now it's a pretty cruel town I recall what happened John Tower my friend when he was hung out for months. During a confirmation process I don't believe they're very many people a society that can stand in the glare of the kind of clique lights that that we focus upon nominee if for high office. For a very long period of time without in gen drink opposition from some quarters to the extent that you put out several nominees and leave them out there. The are bound to stir up a lot of interest groups for example I think it is preposterous to suggest. That there's no one to replace Bruce Babbitt to in the conservation movement I think that there are literally dozens of people who could take that position over the interior. And yet a a group was organizers say we can't possibly lose him. I don't support that particular position the same with respect to even though judge Breyer I think he had a problem which was distinguishable from out of Zoe Baird but nonetheless. A runaway of course people were moving to to condemn him or Lisa criticized. The one thing the President Clinton couldn't afford and that is another delayed. Process or another loss. He has to have some wins this I think will be a winner for him and that he can perhaps start to gain some momentum otherwise. His presidency would continue to to flounder and only gets good for the country and over the country wants to see it. Mr. Stephanopoulos how did this election process gets sold drawn out and by all accounts some ass. Well I think first of all this was an important choice for the precedent. As you pointed out in your opening statement this is the first choice up for the Supreme Court by democratic president. And over generation the president takes this responsibility. Very seriously wanted to make sure that he got it right. And I think we can all agree. The what happens over the next 2030 or forty years on the Supreme Court. And the legacy that this person leave is far more important than what happened in the last forty days that but once said I mean. Go ahead that's said with senator Cohen said is right this is a cruel process. And I think we all. The press those of us in the White House in the administration those in congress have to take responsibility for that process. I think we all know what happens the minute isn't a decision making process starts in Washington. A cottage industry. Is developed to find out who's getting it who's being considered who's under consideration who's being analyzed it takes an awful lot of work you have to look at. We look at forty individuals we looked at thousands of opinions we talked to hundreds of people. In the in trying to determine who was the best candidate. The becomes almost impossible. To keep that a secret especially when everybody's focused on simply finding out who got it done we would prefer. A process would no leaks it does not serve our interests does not serve the president's history of interest and the leaks are often by people who really don't know what's going on. Well let me let me bring in lisle venison here is this just the way business is always done in Washington seems to have been meciar this time. And it often has been with past presidents in in nomination process these. Well I think part of it is materially nastier than it has been a long time. One thing that I think no one has mentioned yet that's worth mentioning. Is that this is a rather profound insult to Byron white. He gave this president three months to make a choice. And he expected that in doing so that the president would move with diligence with dispatch. And would in fact bring forth a nominee. Oh in time to get the process completed. Well before of the court finished for the term this summer. And the reality is that the president whether or not he had reasons for doing so are diversionary matters on his mind. Has taken and who incredibly long time. And has in I think nurtured a process. In which one political faction or another are on the White House staff has floated this name of that name. And has been invited. Public criticism of the various. Peoples who were under consideration mr. Stephanopoulos. You've taken your head well yeah that's exactly right first of all this nominee we expect will be in place well before. The court goes in in October and that is exactly what's important and of course. The president has the greatest respect for justice white who did do us all a service by announcing. He his his retirement from the bench but again we have got to look at how this process goes forward. It once once it begins. The circles wine and wine and wine and many more often than not. The leaks would come not from the White House but from others and those who were consulted from those in the congress or wherever now again we take our responsibility. For what came from the White House but you must have. Some sort. Of a vetting of analysis of candidates before you go forward. Let let let's bring in senator Cohen was at the Senate's fault that Bruce found that and Stephen Breyer were by some accounts hung out to dry. I don't know the Senate's fault I think that one should not hold names of entanglements and less though that the present prepared to put them forward with some reasonable dispatch let me just say that I hope that this is not a precedent for future nominations. I think you can expect within a fairly reasonably short period of time you'll have several more. Opportunity to point Supreme Court justices I think what we ought to do now is start a selection process which has a list of names which have been at least preliminarily vetted. So you don't have a long drawn out process whereby the interest groups start to pick apart anyone they think is about to be nominated so perhaps this will be at least a lesson for all for everyone concerned that we don't want you to repeatedly in the in the future. That's good advice. And to give it. But that's one point of agreement in the field launch we have left element. Let's return if we can to judge Ginsburg Lyle how significant in addition to the court to the president was talking about it today as a consensus builder do you see her. Being the decisive. Vote in this court. No I don't think so the voters that the vote now is controlled by three justices Kennedy O'Connor and Souter. Justice the justice. Ginsburg if in fact the senate approves her. Will fit very comfortably in that block she may well be able to reach out to Justice Scalia in the way the justice O'Connor can't because of their personal differences. How many years standing she will probably promote a more collegial atmosphere because that's one the issues that she pushes very hard. I don't see judge Ginsburg however the emerging. As a prominent figure on the court. And if she's not going to be a playmaker the way justice Brennan was. She's not going to be a bright personality the way Justice Scalia. Or justice Marshall war. And I don't think is a matter of fact that despite all of her gifts and all of her talents as an original thinker. That she's gonna leave a very substantial deposit. In the constitutional or statutory law of this country I think she is. Precisely what the president wanted. Someone who's not gonna make waves not going to make trouble who's gonna sit up there for perhaps twenty years. And be just as moderate as the president would likely to be. Fellow gonna have to leave it there I want to thank you all for joining us tonight and after three months of taking a Supreme Court nominee now we only have a few more months for the confirmation process. Thank you all and I saw our report for tonight I'm Chris Wallace in Washington. For all of us here at ABC news good night.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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