Greenhouse portrays Ginsburg's actions on the emotional level. Not only were the dissents "forceful" -- aren't they all? -- but Ginsburg herself was "passionate and pointed."
To read a dissent aloud is an act of theater that justices use to convey their view that the majority is not only mistaken, but profoundly wrong. It happens just a handful of times a year. Justice Antonin Scalia has used the technique to powerful effect, as has Justice Stevens, in a decidedly more low-key manner.(White glove? Not "kid glove," meaning careful and gentle, but "white glove," which I think is generally used to refer to luxury services provided to the rich. Who wears the white gloves in a "white glove building"? The doorman, not the residents. [ADDED: There's a lot of discussion in the comments about the phrase "white glove."])
The oral dissent has not been, until now, Justice Ginsburg’s style. She has gone years without delivering one, and never before in her 15 years on the court has she delivered two in one term. In her past dissents, both oral and written, she has been reluctant to breach the court’s collegial norms. “What she is saying is that this is not law, it’s politics,” Pamela S. Karlan, a Stanford law professor, said of Justice Ginsburg’s comment linking the outcome in the abortion case to the fact of the court’s changed membership. “She is accusing the other side of making political claims, not legal claims.”
The justice’s acquaintances have watched with great interest what some depict as a late-career transformation. “Her style has always been very ameliorative, very conscious of etiquette,” said Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, the sociologist and a longtime friend. “She has always been regarded as sort of a white-glove person, and she’s achieved a lot that way. Now she is seeing that basic issues she’s fought so hard for are in jeopardy, and she is less bound by what have been the conventions of the court.”
Some might say her dissents are an expression of sour grapes over being in the minority more often than not. But there may be strategic judgment, as well as frustration, behind Justice Ginsburg’s new style. She may have concluded that quiet collegiality has proved futile and that her new colleagues, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., are not open to persuasion on the issues that matter most to her.In other words, it's not an expression of emotion, but a sophisticated political move, intended to get Americans excited and involved in the Court's work -- so they'll see what's at stake. Nothing wrong with that, and I don't mean to say it's not lofty and profound to care about who gets chosen to wield Supreme Court power. It is. Greenhouse's piece subtly conveys the impression that an extremely reserved woman has finally overcome her reticence and spoken up and that this means the majority has erred badly in its understanding of the law. That in itself is a political argument leading the readers to think that Ginsburg must be right and that the fact that she is in the minority on the Court is a problem that needs to be corrected.
ADDED: This post is getting a lot of action in the comments, and I feel as though I ought to spell out something maybe I'm being too subtle about. I think this piece unwittingly demeans Justice Ginsburg as a woman by portraying her as meek and emotional. The idea that she of all people would speak up is supposed to give dramatic weight to her opinion in the cases. The fact that her opinion supports the interests of women may -- for some people -- eclipse this other matter of concern to women, and I want to drag it back into the light.
Justice Ginsburg is a strong, accomplished jurist who is and has always been the equal of the other Justices. She's no purer or less political than the others and no more driven by emotion. If she chooses to read her dissenting opinions about women's issues aloud and provide material for Supreme Court journalists to stir up readers with bathetic pronouncements that she's "found her voice," what I see is a smart political move by an adept legal thinker who knows what the stakes are and wants to affect the game.
Here's Tom Smith who clerked on the D.C. Circuit when she was a judge there:
You had to admire Judge Ginsburg's obvious intelligence, and she seemed like a nice lady. But the idea that she was somehow less political than any other judge is just silly. She was very political. They all were. Some cared more about the law than others, and Ginsburg cared about the law. But there was no question that on a case involving sex discrimination or labor unions, you would be a fool to bet against a liberal outcome if she were the swing vote. She was a nice lady, but she also knew how to rip somebody a new one, if you will.... The idea that she is some kind of elegant, delicate flower who has been forced by the big, bad conservatives to descend into the hurly burly of the political rough and tumble is a complete fantasy of the New York Times and Linda Greenhouse. That is to say, utter rubbish.Go over there and read the whole thing.