Supreme Court Gives RBG Space For 'Essential' Workouts

By Jimmy Hoover
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Law360 (March 31, 2020, 6:42 PM EDT) -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been enjoying exclusive access to a private workout space at the court during the coronavirus pandemic, as her doctors have deemed her training sessions "essential to her well-being."

The court said Wednesday that, at the 87-year-old justice's request, it set aside "limited private space" by its health facility for her to use for her famous exercise regimen. In a statement, the court said "[t]he space is being used exclusively by the justice. No other justices are using the space, and the employee gym is closed to all users."

The statement comes after Law360 reported Tuesday that Justice Ginsburg had still been holding her in-person workout sessions with longtime personal trainer Bryant Johnson during the coronavirus crisis, at a time when the Supreme Court has been closed to the public and oral arguments indefinitely postponed.

In an interview with Law360, Johnson said that the two were taking precautions to wipe down equipment, wash their hands and keep their distance. He said that he had also canceled his appointments with his other clients and was only working with the justice.

"Everybody's been shut down. The only reason why I didn't shut the justice down is because, hey, she ain't having it," said Johnson, who spent over 30 years in the U.S. Army and now works in D.C.'s federal district court. "She has that grandfather status to me and if she wants to train, that's the least that I can do."

The current status of the in-person training sessions is unclear. In an email to New York Magazine's The Cut, Johnson said that the pair stopped meeting as of Wednesday in light of D.C.'s stay-at-home order taking effect. The court's Wednesday statement, however, did not say whether the city's stay-at-home order will impact the justice's training, only that "[h]er doctors share her view that the training sessions are essential to her well-being."

News that Justice Ginsburg — an octogenarian, four-time cancer survivor — was still doing in-person sessions with a trainer sparked criticism from progressives who fear that the justice could be replaced by President Donald Trump if she dies or becomes incapacitated by illness. Some appellate lawyers on Twitter urged the justices' former clerks to intervene and get her to stop the workouts.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench in the ongoing Supreme Court term. The court closed to the public weeks ago, and has indefinitely postponed its March 23 oral argument schedule — the first time since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 that a public health crisis has interfered with oral arguments.

According to the court's public information office, the justices, who are all "healthy," have been dialing into their conferences remotely, with Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. presiding from the court's conference room. This means foregoing their traditional handshakes.

Justice Ginsburg, a leader of the court's liberal bloc who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, has had a number of recent health scares that have alarmed progressives. In 2019, she underwent a three-week course of radiation for a tumor on her pancreas. In 2018, she had surgery to remove cancer from her lung. The justice previously battled colorectal and pancreatic cancer in 1999 and 2009.

Update: This article has been updated with a statement from the U.S. Supreme Court.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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