Hoping for the best but dreading the worst, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sat in a wheelchair and received cheers when she returned to the bench during oral arguments Friday in a case about the legality of racially segregated bathrooms.
Ginsburg appeared much more confident and engaged this week than ever before. The man who cheers her from the audience perhaps believes his support may not be needed, but she’s not on the bench for that reason. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last week that President Donald Trump can keep his administration’s detention of a group of men at the controversial Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and continue holding them indefinitely without charge or trial.
CNN has not confirmed their exact location or precise length of detention, but they are believed to have been held for more than a decade and a half. They were all captured as part of the so-called “war on terror,” accused of having terror ties.
Before the arguments began Friday, Justice Clarence Thomas chided his colleagues for having written in the same way every time “even though the law allows a number of different forms of detention and we make repeated non-binding pronouncements from this bench.” He said the justices are “relying not on our words, but our fancy.”
After Ginsburg arrived at the bench in her wheelchair, Thomas said: “Well, at least we are able to coordinate our opinions from here.”
Before the hearing, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced her at the home of the Court, saying that “America has come a long way since she last met this great woman.” Sen. Chuck Grassley from the Senate Judiciary Committee added that “we owe her a debt of gratitude.” And two dozen women, who gathered together for a group photo in solidarity, said the Court has great representation from women “who have made significant contributions to this country.”
Still, Justice Sonia Sotomayor told CNN host Leslie Stahl on “State of the Union” last weekend that she “still agonizes” about the situation of those held in Guantanamo, which is among the more controversial aspects of the so-called war on terror that has dominated international headlines.
The members of the group in this case were known as “the six turban men” because they reportedly wore turbans and carried large knives with them when they were captured.
“This is an enormous decision, and it’s unfortunate,” Sotomayor said.
“We have to get them out of prison, and I cannot understand why they’re still there — even though it’s been well over ten years, we may not have even had the high court decision for it yet. So I’m hoping that they’re freed because it’s the right thing to do.”
A lengthy review of their case led to a decision by a federal judge last year that they could stay at Guantánamo until the justices ruled on their legality. The government filed an appeal with the Supreme Court in December 2018, but after a five-month review in April of this year, the justices disagreed and threw out the lower court ruling.
The administration could appeal to the Supreme Court again in light of the ruling, and argued in its petition that they have a “strong case,” arguing that the men have given “vague assurances” that they will comply with the conditions of their release.
Ginsburg didn’t make any comment on her ongoing health, telling reporters “my attorney general has told me not to comment on my health.”