(Kevork Djansezian) Watch as the Supreme Court justice TOTALLY DESTROYS the rule of law.
Since there was no bride to be the “belle” at the ritzy D.C. wedding of Shakespeare Theater Company artistic director Michael Kahn and Manhattan architect Charles Mitchem this weekend, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who officiated, was happy to play the part. And she did so with panache, says Maureen Dowd:
The most glittering moment for the crowd came during the ceremony. With a sly look and special emphasis on the word “Constitution,” Justice Ginsburg said that she was pronouncing the two men married by the powers vested in her by the Constitution of the United States. . . . The guests began applauding loudly.
For a sitting Supreme Court justice facing a case on precisely this divisive issue, her remark seems — let’s put it mildly — injudicious. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not just some Supreme Court Justice. She is “Notorious R.B.G.”
The coinage, a mashup of Ginsburg and murdered rapper The Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls), was the brainchild of then–NYU law student Shana Khiznik in 2013, shortly after Justice Ginsburg issued much-feted dissents in Fisher v. University of Texas, an affirmative-action case, and Shelby County v. Holder, a case dealing with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Since then she has become an Internet sensation: ubiquitous meme, Halloween costume for infants, arm tat, the likeliest candidate on the Supreme Court to be made into an ice-cream flavor. In February, U.S. News & World Report recalled how Ginsburg drank before the 2015 State of the Union (!), once rode an elephant (!!), and another time went parasailing ([email protected]#$%!!!) — all dredged up “just in case you need more reasons to love Notorious RBG.”
I’m good, thanks.
RELATED: ‘We Only Whisper It’: Justice Ginsburg Sings Another Verse of ‘Kill the Poor’
Cults are a fixture of American political life — the current president, recall, framed himself with a mock Greek temple in 2008 — but outside the halls of law schools, cults of personality have tended not to form around Supreme Court justices. The arrangement of the judicial system is supposed to favor impartiality, which is a virtue that does not lend itself to popular acclaim. Few people actually want objectivity in a judge; they want a judge who will side with them.
Which is why Ginsburg has occasioned such celebration. This weekend was not the first time Ginsburg has spoken less than discreetly about a hot-button issue. When she criticized Roe v. Wade at the University of Chicago in 2013, it was not because of anything the decision had or had not done; it was because it “stimulated the mobilization of a right-to-life movement and an attendant reaction in Congress and state legislatures.” “It seemed to stop the momentum” toward the reduction of abortion restrictions, she lamented.
RELATED: Ginsburg’s Astounding Indiscretion on Gay Marriage
When the feminist outlet Jezebel reported this remark, it worried in passing that Ginsburg might be “hesitant to pass anything broad-sweeping when it comes to marriage equality rulings.” Precious. Not only is Ginsburg the go-to justice for same-sex-wedding officiating, but she is currently featured in advertisements by the Human Rights Campaign. “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg agrees Americans are ready for marriage equality,” the ad declares.
For Ginsburg, the law is an instrument toward political ends. When she declared in her 1993 confirmation hearing that her reading of the Constitution relied on “the climate of the age,” she was offering not an interpretive rule, but a political one. The jurist who thinks there are “populations that we don’t want to have too many of” (three cheers for Roe for helping out with that!) is really just waiting for the climate of the age to catch up with her fevered pursuit of justice. Someday we yokels will see that a good eugenics program is just what we need.
Ginsburg is really just waiting for the climate of the age to catch up with her fevered pursuit of justice.
The acclaim for Ginsburg’s distinguished legal career is, then, really acclaim for her unorthodox political career. Go back to those dissents. If you read reports from left-wing media, Ginsburg is the Jon Stewart of Supreme Court opinions: her dissents are “ferocious,” “withering,” “blistering,” “barbequing,” and (my personal favorite) “disemboweling.” Justice Scalia, eat your heart out!
But Ginsburg gets her dissents made into songs not because they actually eviscerate opponents’ arguments, but because she is already an icon. The whole arrangement is backwards, to wit: She is not a feminist hero because she is (in the words of Rebecca Traister, writing at The New Republic) “bone-crushingly robust yet simultaneously appealing”; she is “bone-crushingly robust yet simultaneously appealing” because she is a feminist hero.
Without seeking to eviscerate Justice Ginsburg’s career — which ought not to be done; she has won victories aplenty for the rule of law, too — the source of Ginsburg-mania is the source of the fandom for every recent feminist political icon: a specific, highly partisan vision of modern Western womanhood. That is clear from Traister’s treatment of the “Notorious R.B.G.” trend: “Images and hashtags and scraps of lyrics to invert old prejudices about vulnerability and maternity and femininity into embodiments of brawn and might” — embodiments that include, in Traister’s reckoning, not only Ginsburg but Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Wendy Davis (remember her?).
Notice any similarities among those women?
#related#The vision of womanhood that celebrates Ginsburg, Clinton, et al. has no place for Kristi Noem, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez, or Kelly Ayotte. The “crucial expansion of the American imagination with regard to powerful women” is so expansive that it can encompass Laverne Cox — but not Carly Fiorina.
“The Notorious R.B.G.” is not the beneficiary of a grand expansion of imagination, a leap to a higher plane of Being. She is the result of an ideology of womanhood that has been militantly enforced on American politics and culture over the past half-century, not by latter-day Susan B. Anthonys but by knockoff Betty Friedans. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s own service has been to impose that ideology on the law not from a seat in the legislature, but from her perch on the judges’ bench. By doing so, she has helped to legitimize the reduction of the Constitution and the entire judicial apparatus to an instrument for political gain, and to enshrine a vision of modern womanhood that cheerfully eviscerates any woman who believes otherwise. The Left thinks that is something to be celebrated?
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.
- 8 facts about Ruth Bader Ginsburg that will make you love her even more
- 1. Ginsburg loves her “Notorious RBG” nickname.
- 2. Ginsburg nods off whenever she wants.
- 3. Ginsburg helped publish a cookbook in her late husband’s honor.
- 4. Ginsburg is a two-time cancer survivor.
- 5. Ginsburg uses her iconic collars to send coded messages.
- 6. Ginsburg cofounded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
- 7. Ginsburg’s workout routine is hardcore.
- 8. Ginsburg’s “Advice for Living” will make you feel like you can do anything.
- On the Basis of Sex: When Ruth Bader Ginsberg helped overturn centuries of gender discrimination
- POLITICO Magazine
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she never stopped her famous workout despite latest cancer bout
- This Ruth Bader Ginsberg Workout Will Totally Crush You
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Personal Trainer Says Saving Money Is a Lot Like Exercise. Here’s How
- Just Start Moving
- You Already Have Everything You Need To Work Out
- Don’t Make Excuses (You Have RGB to Thank for This One)
8 facts about Ruth Bader Ginsburg that will make you love her even more
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest justice on the court, celebrates her 84th birthday Wednesday. The dissent-loving, cancer-beating icon is a lifetime crusader for women’s rights who sometimes falls asleep after too much wine — though don’t we all? Her no-nonsense commitment to civil rights makes her the most popular Supreme Court justice, and her sharp wit has been expertly satirized by Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon.
If you didn’t love her before, here are eight facts about the Notorious RBG that will send you head over heels.
1. Ginsburg loves her “Notorious RBG” nickname.
Ginsburg’s blistering dissents are legendary. In 2013, the Notorious RBG Tumblr account launched to honor Ginsburg “in all her glory,” quoting her opinions on Supreme Court cases through the years, though the nickname didn’t go viral until a year later.
In 2014, the Supreme Court heard a case brought by Hobby Lobby over an Affordable Care Act mandate requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage. The court ultimately ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor, but Ginsberg’s 35-page dissent stole the show and cemented her “Notorious RBG” monicker into the annals of internet meme history.
During a July 2014 interview with Katie Couric, Ginsburg said the website that spawned her alter ego was “a wonderful thing.”
2. Ginsburg nods off whenever she wants.
During former President Barack Obama’s January 2015 State of the Union Address, Ginsburg famously caused a stir when she very noticeably fell asleep.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
She later told reporters she nodded off — “as I often do” — because she “wasn’t 100% sober.”
According to USA Today, Ginsburg went to dinner with fellow justices before the address. Though she had sworn to only drink sparkling water, she said “the dinner was so delicious, it needed wine.” Guess it’s a good thing she didn’t swear under oath.
3. Ginsburg helped publish a cookbook in her late husband’s honor.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her late husband, Martin Ginsburg, in 2003Ed Bailey/AP
Before his 2010 death from complications of metastatic cancer, Martin “Marty” Ginsburg was a prominent tax attorney and law professor. But he was also “one of the nation’s most innovative and accomplished amateur chefs,” according to NPR.
The day after his memorial service, Martha-Ann Alito, wife of Justice Samuel Alito, suddenly had an idea for putting together a cookbook of Marty Ginsburg’s recipes.
The cookbook, Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, is available online and at the Supreme Court gift shop. The longest recipe, French baguettes, covers a whopping four pages. The extreme length of the recipe, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, was because her husband “didn’t want to leave out a single step, so that the person who uses it won’t have to go through the process that he went through to perfect it.”
4. Ginsburg is a two-time cancer survivor.
In 1999, Ginsburg was diagnosed with colon cancer and reportedly didn’t miss a day of work during her hospitalization, according to the New York Times.
Ginsburg was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009 and, once again, came out swinging. According to a Fox News article, Ginsburg became lightheaded at work a few months after treatment and spent the night in the hospital as a precaution. Ginsburg was reportedly suffering from anemia, a common side effect of chemotherapy, but was released from the hospital the following morning. The court released a statement saying she “would be at her desk by the afternoon,” and sure enough, she was.
5. Ginsburg uses her iconic collars to send coded messages.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Ginsburg and then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor came up with an idea to use jabots to stand out from the traditional black robes the justices wear.
“You know, the standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie,” Ginsburg told the Washington Post in 2009. “So Sandra Day O’Connor and I thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman. So I have many, many collars.”
During her 2014 interview with Couric, Ginsburg said she had a specific collar for wearing during dissents because it “looks fitting.” She donned the collar when the court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case as well as the day after the 2016 presidential election, despite the fact the court had no opinions to read. Some interpreted the move as a sign of disagreement with the election’s outcome.
Meanwhile, Ginsburg’s majority-opinion collar features a gold-chain trim and charms and was a gift from her law clerks.
6. Ginsburg cofounded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
According to the ACLU, Ginsburg saw openings within the Constitution that could help advance women and capitalized on them by cofounding the Women’s Rights Project in 1972.
The ACLU said Ginsburg believed the group would lend “credibility” to women’s rights issues. Between 1969 and 1980 — the year Ginsburg was first appointed to a federal bench — the ACLU reportedly took part in 66% of the Supreme Court’s gender discrimination cases.
According to the ACLU website, Ginsburg’s work helped to establish “the foundation for the current legal prohibitions against sex discrimination … and helped lay the groundwork for future women’s rights advocacy.”
7. Ginsburg’s workout routine is hardcore.
According to a 2015 biography on the Supreme Court justice, Ginsburg’s dissents aren’t the only thing she’s notorious for. Her workout regimen is intense.
Ginsburg reportedly started the brutal daily workout on the advice of her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, who told her it would “stop you from having to have a nurse 24/7,” according to an excerpt from her biography. Ben Schreckinger, a self-described “young and reasonably fit” Politico reporter, attempted to complete Ginsburg’s workout in February. He wrote that it “nearly broke” him, adding “I can confirm she could not be in better hands.”
8. Ginsburg’s “Advice for Living” will make you feel like you can do anything.
In October, Ginsburg penned an op-ed for the New York Times chronicling her life’s challenges and the successes that followed, mirroring her concerns and hope for the country’s future.
Ginsburg’s advice was a culmination of advice she received from others. On her wedding day, for example, her mother-in-law told her “In every good marriage … it helps sometimes to be a little deaf,” advice Ginsburg said also came in handy with her work on the Supreme Court.
On the Basis of Sex: When Ruth Bader Ginsberg helped overturn centuries of gender discrimination
Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex, a Focus Features release.Jonathan Wenk / Focus FeaturesWould this film have the same clickbait appeal if it had been called On the Basis of Gender?
Sex per se in this movie is nonexistent, though a recently married Marty (Armie Hammer) and Ruth Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) do move in that direction when he lifts her up and carries her toward the bedroom, not like a groom carrying the bride over the threshold, but more like her straddling his strapping frame while he walks the both of them to bed, eager lovers itching to consummate the deal. I can only imagine Ruth Bader Ginsburg watching this scene in the movie of her life.
Still, it’s not sex but gender that permeates the core of this earnest and well-intentioned film.
Perhaps too earnest and well-intentioned to be a fully satisfying look at this remarkable woman who transformed the American legal system by achieving long-denied rights for 50% of the population. Mimi Leder directed this hagiographic biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsburg from a rather wooden screenplay by Daniel Stiepleman (Ginsburg’s nephew!).
Lots of legalese makes for a rather ponderous, bloodless script when what we want is more energy and passion with sudden breakthroughs and reversals. Longfellow wrote that the wheels of justice turn slowly and grind exceedingly fine, but in a movie we want less slow-and-fine and more splash-and-dash than this limp script can muster. And it also ignores the anti-Semitic vibes throughout 1950s America that surely both Marty and Ruth had to contend with in their own quest of the American dream.
Hardly 50 years ago, women could lose their jobs for becoming pregnant; could not report cases of sexual harassment in the workplace; could not get a credit card if they were single (and, if married, not without their husband’s approval); could not run in the Boston Marathon; could not access birth control; could not get a legal abortion; could be restricted from serving on a jury, especially for a trial that would likely involve graphic sexual or gruesome murder details; could not become an astronaut; could not attend a military academy or fight in combat; could not practice law; could not take legally mandated maternity leave; could not refuse sex with their husbands. There are plenty more could-nots, all paternalistically designed to protect women.
The film opens with Ginsburg’s first day at the Harvard School of Law, a female in a plaid summer dress and pearls in a sea of male, and white, faces. There are a total of nine women in the incoming class of Harvard 1956 and they stick out like paisley on a runway of dark Brooks Brothers suits. As she takes her place in the temple of manly, lawyerly training, we hear the Harvard Glee Club singing the fight song, “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard.”
This delicious opening establishes the entrenched male-dominated, phallocentric world of the law. Women shouldn’t be worrying their pretty little heads with such matters, made even more evident later that day at the dinner sponsored by the law school Dean Erwin Griswold (granite-faced Sam Waterston), who asks each of the nine female students to explain “why you’re occupying a place that could have gone to a man.” Ginsburg proves her early mettle by sweetly, and sarcastically, replying so she could “be a more supportive wife.” The Dean is not amused.
Armie Hammer as Marty Ginsburg, Justin Theroux as Melvin Wulf, and Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg star in Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex, a Focus Features release.Jonathan Wenk / Focus FeaturesGinsburg’s husband Marty (Armie Hammer), a tax litigator himself, is a significant part of her success as he is the nontraditional spouse who cooks and cares for the children while Ruth is off fighting the good fight. It seems a genuine co-equal relationship that informs all of Ginsburg’s efforts to liberate both genders from their ancient division of labor. She works with ACLU head Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux), bringing various sex-discrimination cases before the courts as she shreds the Biblically ordained and constitutionally mandated places of men and women in American society.
At 85, Justice Ginsburg is the oldest and most vulnerable on the Supreme Court, thus likely the next justice that Trump will replace, a huge loss when she is no longer on the bench.
The film ends with the real Ruth Bader Ginsburg striding like a colossus up the steps of the Supreme Court, a 95-pound weakling confronting the bastion of male privilege. It’s a stirring moment to see the real woman, but it only highlights this weakly scripted, formulaic biopic that never achieves the defiance and courage of the flesh-and-blood RBG.
Ben Wiley taught literature and film at St. Petersburg College. At USF/Tampa, he was statewide Director of the Florida Consortium/University of Cambridge (UK) International Summer Schools. Contact him here. Stay up to date on all the Tampa Bay arts and culture news by subscribing to Creative Loafing’s weekly Do This newsletter.
In the early hours of Nov. 9, as stock markets began to rally on the news of Donald Trump’s upset win, there was another dramatic spike afoot. Interest in the bone density and cholesterol levels of an 83-year-old woman from Flatbush, New York, was also soaring.
Many people wanted to know whether two-time cancer survivor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the oldest and perhaps the most liberal justice on the Supreme Court, had enough gas in the tank to outlast the Trump presidency, or whether Trump would get a chance to fundamentally alter the balance of the court by replacing her, a possibility he dangled successfully to entice wary Republicans to vote him.
As it turns out, the answer to that question lies largely in the hands of a staffer in the clerk’s office of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Asked earlier this month about the most important person in her life, Ginsburg, who was widowed in 2010 and lost a close friend with the 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia, responded, “My personal trainer.”
That would be Bryant Johnson, 52. You could think of Johnson’s sturdy limbs as a fourth branch of government, grafted onto the judiciary, keeping it aloft. When Johnson is not helping run the District courthouse or fulfilling his duties as a Sergeant First Class in the Army Reserves, he moonlights as a physical trainer to local jurists, including not only Ginsburg, but also Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, two of the high court’s other three reliably liberal votes, as well as several appeals court judges.
Since Trump’s election, Ginsburg’s continued survival has become a matter of severe anxiety for liberals, many of whom pressured her in vain to resign during the Obama years to ensure that a Democrat appointed her successor. On Thursday night, during an appearance at George Washington University, she vowed, “I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam.” Worried about just how long that will be, people have been offering to send her kale or donate blood or clad her in protective padding, and it’s not entirely clear they are joking.
To address their concerns, I set out to investigate the world’s most important workout, an endeavor that the chambers of Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan all promptly declined to have anything to do with.1
This was a setback. But there was a loophole. Though the justices wouldn’t touch this, Johnson was free to cooperate. Was there some way to simulate the RBG workout without Ginsburg herself?
I determined to undergo the workout myself, and to write about it. To meet a sufficient evidentiary standard to prove this actually happened, we would also have to film it.
I’m no athlete, but I’m young and reasonably fit. I thought the workout would be pattycake, but it was much harder than I expected. Ginsburg’s personal trainer, it turns out, is no joke.
Muscular and bespectacled, Johnson clocks in at 5-foot-11 and just over 200 pounds. He grew up on a farm in Virginia and played football in high school, enlisted in the military in 1983 and began working in the clerk’s office three years later. In 1997, he was certified as a personal trainer. Rather than open his own gym, Johnson trained clients from his workplace—judges, deputy U.S. marshals and other court personnel—at the facility inside the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, which houses Washington’s district court, its appeals court and the U.S. FISA Court. Word of Johnson’s prowess spread in Washington’s legal circles, and in 1999, after she recovered from colon cancer, Ginsburg began working with him at the urging of her late husband, Marty. At the time, Ginsburg has said, “I looked like a survivor of Auschwitz.” Aside from a three-year deployment in Kuwait, Johnson has trained Ginsburg nonstop since then, adding the other two justices along the way.
Johnson’s niche makes him perhaps the world’s only personal trainer whose job it is to ensure that his clients keep riding the bench, and probably the one whose work is most consequential, whether you’re rooting for or against the liberal justices staying on the job. A number of precedents that have long been fundamental to the American legal landscape, like Roe v. Wade, and more recent landmarks, like the 2015 split decision legalizing same-sex marriage, would likely be out the window should Trump get the chance to replace one of the court’s four liberal justices.
Trump has done little to allay those fears on the left, naming Neil Gorsuch, an originalist in Scalia’s mold, as his first Supreme Court pick. For her part, Ginsburg has not hidden her feelings about her contemporary from Queens. In an interview published last week by the BBC, she said, “Some terrible things have happened in the United States,” and “We are not experiencing the best times.” Last July, she was even more blunt, calling Trump a “faker” and saying, “I don’t even want to contemplate” a Trump presidency’s effect on the court, comments she later walked back.
Of course, at the beginning of every one of his campaign rallies, a disembodied voice playing over loudspeakers reminds attendees that Trump is a “lifelong defender of the First Amendment” in case they had forgotten his threats to lodge frivolous lawsuits against journalists, his vows to “open up” libel laws and his relentlessly hostile attacks on the “lying media,” which he recently described as “enemies of the people.” In a meeting last summer with Republican lawmakers, Trump also reportedly proclaimed his commitment to protecting Article I, Article II and Article XII2 of the Constitution, displaying an admirable willingness to defend equally the existent and the nonexistent provisions of our founding charter.
Suffice it to say some people3 are concerned that Trump, who has described the 150-year-old Geneva Conventions against torture as “the problem” and famously attacked a federal judge in Indiana for having Mexican parents, might reshape the Supreme Court in his own image based on ideas he got from watching the shows.4
Trump has little discernible constitutional philosophy, though he said in September that his appointees would “need to preserve the very core of our country and make it greater than ever before.”
The future of the Supreme Court was perhaps the biggest prize up for grabs in last year’s election, and depending on attrition, Trump could get a historic chance to implement his vague vision for it.
Justice Ginsburg, who will be 84 in March, is not the Supreme Court’s only octogenarian. The court’s swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, is 80 years old and Breyer is 78—making it plausible that Trump could get the chance to place as many as three reliable conservatives, or three Trumpists, in seats they do not currently hold. Last week, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said “the odds are very good” that another Supreme Court seat will open up this summer—though he professed not to have any inside information.
My investigation of RBG’s gym regimen promised to answer all sorts of questions. What is the world’s most physically fit profession, judges or journalists? And while we know that Justice is supposed to be blind, is she also ripped?
Johnson agreed to meet me on Presidents Day at an undisclosed location.5
He came dressed in a T-shirt advertising his business, BJ’s Body Justice (“It all begins with attitude”6), under his windbreaker, with an airborne pendant, a parachute with wings worn by paratroopers, hanging from his neck.
Ginsburg usually works out with Johnson twice a week, on whatever days are mutually convenient, for about an hour per session. Normally, the workouts start around 7 p.m. at a gym inside the Supreme Court, and she listens to PBS NewsHour while she exercises. If the workout has to be squeezed in at another time, she will stoop to turning on cable news.
Johnson and I began around 10:30 a.m. with a five-minute warmup on an elliptical machine. When Ginsburg uses the elliptical, Johnson stands at her side, ready to catch her in case she loses her balance. “I’m kind of like the security blanket, the lifeguard,” he said. “I’m just here making sure nothing happens.”
Five minutes on the elliptical was a snap, leaving me unimpressed. But we were only getting started.
We know a lot about Supreme Court justices’ ideological flexibility—think of the party-line ruling to end the 2000 Florida recount or John Roberts’ pragmatic vote to uphold Obamacare—but surprisingly little about their physical flexibility. After the elliptical came some light stretching, and as it turns out, Ginsburg is more flexible than I am. I was unable to bend over and touch my toes, or even grab my ankles, from a seated position with my legs extended.
After some lecturing about my need to improve and a butterfly groin stretch, we proceeded to the strength training.
When Johnson informed Ginsburg he would be leading me through her workout, she told him, “I hope he makes it through.” This was obviously some sort of coded instruction to humiliate me, because after the stretching, Johnson announced he would make me use double the weight that Ginsburg did on the strength exercises to achieve the same effect.7
For most of the exercises, Johnson said Ginsburg performs three sets of 10 to 13 reps, depending on his judgment of what her body is up to on a given day. Sometimes he engages in what he called “counting funny” to customize the length of a set, a habit I noticed when he would mumble a count of “four” under his breath after what felt like at least eight reps.8
The strength exercises started with a machine bench press, where Ginsburg normally puts up 70 pounds. From there it was leg curls and leg presses, chest flies and lat pull-downs, all on machines, while stretching the muscle groups being exercised in between sets. I performed three sets of seated rows and three sets of standing rows. It was so many rows I asked Johnson, “What about Wade?”9
He didn’t take the bait or hold forth on his own judicial philosophy. “I stay in my lane,” explained Johnson, who swore he never gave in to the temptation to play shadow clerk by offering his clients his two cents on matters before the court.
Ginsburg also performs one-legged squats, an exercise that illustrated just how intimate the trainer-justice relationship could get. While he held my hands, Johnson instructed me to raise one leg in the air between his legs and to stand up from seated position on a bench using the other leg until I was standing, practically embracing him, 10 times for each leg, three times. This was not easy, and caused me to look at Johnson — who has jumped out of helicopters, planes and a hot air balloon in the service of this country — in a way he found deeply unsettling. He asked me not kick him in the groin, something that, for the record, Ginsburg has never done.
From there, we went to the floor. Johnson said Ginsburg takes great pride in progressing from horizontal pushups against a wall when he first began working with her, to pushups with her knees down on the ground, to full pushups.
“Justice Ginsburg does 10 pushups and she does not do the so-called ‘girl pushups,’” explained Georgetown Law Professor Mary Hartnett during an appearance with the justice earlier this month at the Virginia Military Institute. “She does not use her knees.10 And then she stretches back for a very brief pause and she does 10 more.”
I was able to match Ginsburg’s pushups feat with only a little grunting, though Ginsburg never grunts, as Johnson felt compelled to tell me at one point. He also let me know, as I peppered him with questions, that unlike me, Ginsburg barely rests between sets.
Then came planks: 30 seconds of a standard plank and 30 seconds on each side. These are a recent introduction for Ginsburg, who previously performed sit-ups, and not her favorite exercise. While I planked, Johnson nudged my waist from side to side, instructing me to provide resistance, to further work my core. He does this with Ginsburg, and also stands ready to catch her should she experience muscle failure while planking.
After that, we broke out a giant exercise ball which I sat on while panting, sweating and performing arm and shoulder exercises with dumbbells. Then I pinned the exercise ball between my back and the wall and alternated sets of squats with dumb-bell curls. For this, Ginsburg pumps 12 pounds and I pumped 25.11
Next, Johnson set up a platform about 18 inches high and had me step up on it while raising my knees and performing a variety of movements to promote leg strength and hip flexibility.
Somewhere in there, he also had me perform leg exercises on the floor as well as while standing and holding on to a staff to keep my balance. At one point he even had me standing on an upside-down bosu—the top of an exercise ball affixed to a flat platform—and falling off while attempting to squat.
Finally, he had me sit on a bench while holding a medicine ball, then stand up, toss him the ball and sit back down again after he flipped the ball back to me.12 “I told the justice that if you cannot do this exercise, you will need a nurse 24-7,” Johnson recalled.
This exercise is crucial, he explained, because it employs the motion needed to use a toilet unassisted. I passed that one with flying colors. After 90 grueling minutes, panting and red in the face, I had more or less successfully completed the Ginsburg workout.
After catching my breath, I asked Johnson whether he recommended that older people do a workout like the one we just went through or do Trump’s self-professed regimen: playing golf and giving stemwinder campaign speeches. “Do something. If you’re not doing anything then I advise you do something,” Johnson advised diplomatically. “It doesn’t matter what you do. You find out what is your niche and do something. Your body is made to move.”
But does Johnson believe Trump, who is 70, could complete Ginsburg’s workout? Wisely, he declined to comment.
Trying a different tack, I asked Johnson what he made of older people who say they forgo vigorous exercise because their friends who work out suffer from all sorts of joint problems. Johnson compared muscles to a pair of pliers — which will get rusty from lack of use but begin to function like a fine-tuned machine if used regularly—and agreed that that sort of just sounded like an excuse.13
As for Ginsburg’s continued vitality, after going through one of her workouts I can confirm she could not be in better hands. Sore, disoriented and cranky, I didn’t feel a day over 65.
— Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turns 85 years old today.
The longtime personal trainer of the Supreme Court Justice — who gained the nickname “The Notorious R.B.G.” — shared secrets in October for how the 85-year-old stays physically strong every day as she interprets the Constitution.
Bryant Johnson has trained Ginsburg since 1999, shortly after she was treated for colon cancer. Ginsburg referred to Johnson in a past interview as the most important person in her life.
The two have worked together to rebuild Ginsburg’s strength and bone density following the oldest Supreme Court justice’s two battles with cancer.
Johnson said Ginsburg is known for wearing a shirt that says “super diva” during her workouts. He is now sharing the workout for his “inspiring” client in a new book, “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong . . . and You Can Too!”
“She is a living example of what she stands for, including the fight for equal rights for women,” Johnson said of Ginsburg in a statement announcing the book.
Johnson appeared live on “Good Morning America” today to demonstrate Ginsburg’s workout, which he has dubbed “The RBG Workout.”
Here are the moves that he shared that you can do at home, with demonstrations by an animated Ginsburg figure:
As an alternative to using a machine, a modified version of a machine pulldown is to place a resistance band between an open door and the door frame. Sit on a chair or bench facing the door and then pull the band down and in towards your chest, then return to your starting position and repeat.
Medicine ball push-ups
Johnson recommends focusing on the arms, back and core when doing a medicine ball push-up. Start by getting into push-up position on a mat or towel and then cross one foot behind the other and place one hand on the medicine ball and the other on the floor when you do your push-ups.
For a less-intense modification, just do a regular push-up but do two sets and ten reps. Johnson added that you should be sure to keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and keep your abs flexed during the push-up.
The wall squat with a yoga ball can also be done with a partner, Johnson said. Either place the yoga ball against a wall if you are solo, or stand back-to-back with a partner and squat at the same time while holding light dumbbells. Grasp the dumbbells in each hand with palms facing in and hold them to your chest. Meanwhile, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle while inhaling and squeeze your buttocks as you squat.
Alternatively, you can also modify this move by doing a wall squat with a resistance band.
This story was originally published on October 18, 2017.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she never stopped her famous workout despite latest cancer bout
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a conversation with professor Amanda Tyler, Ginsburg’s former clerk, at UC Berkeley Law School. USA TODAY Handout
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never stopped her famous workout amid her most recent bout with cancer, she told an audience in California on Monday.
Ginsburg, 86, was speaking at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law as part of a lecture honoring Herma Hill Kay, the school’s first female dean, when she said she felt “very well” in comparison with how she was six months ago.
And when asked if she had been able to return to the gym since receiving radiation treatment for a pancreatic tumor in August, Ginsburg said, “I never left it.”
“Even in my lowest periods I couldn’t do very much, but I did what I can,” she said.
Her exercise routine, which she said includes push-ups, planking and weights, has been widely celebrated. Her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, wrote a book about it in 2017, “The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong … And You Can Too!”
Ginsburg said she had been working with Johnson since 1999 after her first battle with cancer – that time in her colon – when her husband expressed concern about how frail she appeared. She has worked out twice a week ever since.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: After cancer, justice hits the road to prove her vitality – and longevity
More: How we all became obsessed with Ginsburg’s workout
She first faced pancreatic cancer in 2009 and made a full recovery.
Doctors removed two cancerous growths from her lung at the end of 2018. While she recuperated, she missed oral arguments before the court in January, marking the first time in her career that she had been absent from the bench.
In her fourth bout with cancer, she underwent a three-week course of radiation therapy after a malignant tumor on her pancreas was detected during a routine blood test in July.
A second pancreatic cancer diagnosis is alarming because the average five-year survival rate is 9%, the lowest for all cancers.
More: Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at 86, dreams of serving many more years
Ginsburg’s health has been closely watched with about 15 months remaining in President Donald Trump’s first term and a Supreme Court that is relatively balanced at the moment. Observers say that if Trump is able to appoint another justice, it will likely ensure a clear conservative shift on the bench.
In July, Ginsburg said it was her dream to remain on the court as long her former colleague John Paul Stevens, who retired at age 90.
Monday’s lecture was opened by Berkeley Law school’s dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, who was criticized in 2014 for suggesting that Ginsburg retire that year, when Democrats controlled the White House and the Senate.
Contributing: Richard Wolf
I’m still alive, and he isn’t: RBG rips former senator who questioned her health
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks about her work and gender equality following a ceremony where she received a SUNY Honorary Degree from the University at Buffalo on Aug. 26, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. Jeffrey T. Barnes, AP Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks about her work and gender equality following a ceremony where she received a SUNY Honorary Degree from the University at Buffalo on Aug. 26, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. Jeffrey T. Barnes, AP Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, has become a pop culture icon, now appearing as a minifigurine in “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.” H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY “Lego Movie 2” director Mike Mitchell says Ginsburg gave approval for her Lego movie appearance, but her voice work was not needed. “We’re all huge fans. It made us laugh to think of having her enter this world.” WARNER BROS Ginsburg showed off her workout routine in the hit documentary “RBG.” AP Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex,” currently in theaters. FOCUS FEATURES Armie Hammer plays Martin Ginsburg with Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The duo argued and won the 1972 tax case “Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue” in “On the Basis of Sex.” JONATHAN WENK/AP “Saturday Night Live” stars Pete Davidson and Chris Redd put together a rap about Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Kate McKinnon as the high-octane justice with slick dance moves. NBC, Steve Molina Contreras/NBC Kate McKinnon makes frequent appearances as Ginsburg on “Weekend Update.” NBC, Will Heath/NBC Ginsburg is a book sensation. Here’s the cover of “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” DEY STREET BOOKS Ginsburg is a Real Life Action Figure who wields the gavel. Courtesy of FCTRY There is a major “Lego Movie 2” perk. Ginsburg will now become an official Lego figurine. Warner Bros.
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JTA — Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t getting any younger. As the Jewish US Supreme Court justice comes up on her 84th birthday next month, many of her fans are praying that she lives through the Trump presidency.
It isn’t hard to tell how Ginsburg herself feels about the current political situation. In an interview with the BBC last week, she avoided mentioning President Trump by name — as she did last July, when she was harshly criticized for lambasting the former real estate magnate before the election — but said that the US is not “experiencing the best of times” right now. She also said she is worried about the freedom of the press, argued that the current Congress is “not working” and praised the recent Women’s March on Washington.
But she has already been a darling for a long time among liberals — who have recently started begging her to eat more kale and keep track of her bone density so that she might have a better chance of staying on the court for at least the next four years.
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There is one thing that should calm these nervous RBG supporters: Twice a week, she completes a grueling, all-body workout devised by a former army reserves sergeant.
On Monday, Politico’s Ben Schreckinger published a firsthand account of what Ginsburg’s workout feels like. He met with Ginsburg’s personal trainer, Bryant Johnson — who also trains the court’s other Jewish justices, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan — and completed the Ginsburg workout in an excruciating 90-minute session.
“I’m no athlete, but I’m young and reasonably fit. I thought the workout would be pattycake, but it was much harder than I expected,” Schreckinger wrote.
Below is an outline of all the exercises Schreckinger mentions in his article. It may not make you wise enough to decipher a federal court case, but it will likely make you stronger. (Although, if you complete it while watching “PBS NewsHour,” like Johnson says Ginsburg does, you may have a pretty good grasp of current events.)
The RBG workout
(All exercises include three sets of 10-13 repetitions)
- 5 minutes on the elliptical
- Machine bench press (Ginsburg, who is 5’1” and thin, presses 70 pounds)
- Leg curl machine
- Leg press machine
- Chest fly machine
- Lat pull down machine
- Seated rows
- Standing rows
- One-legged squats
- Push-ups (Ginsburg started doing them against the wall, but progressed to doing them on her knees and now with straight legs)
- Standard plank (30 seconds)
- Sideways planks (30 seconds on each side)
- Hip abduction exercises
- Squats against exercise ball and wall
- Dumbbell curls against exercise ball and wall
- Platform step-ups
- Squats on an upside-down bosu
- Medicine ball tosses while standing up off of a bench and sitting back down
This Ruth Bader Ginsberg Workout Will Totally Crush You
Fancy yourself a young, fit whippersnapper? That’s all about to change.
Ben Schreckinger, a journalist from Politico, made it his mission to try 83-year-old U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s workout-and barely lived to tell the tale. This lady-who’s been on the Supreme Court for a whopping 23 years, and has lovingly earned the nickname Notorious R.B.G.-packs a lot of punch for her age, and her fitness regimen is the ultimate proof.
Ginsburg, like many other justices, trains with Bryant Johnson, a 52-year-old Sergeant First Class in the Army Reserves who works out some of our country’s most important judiciary bodies on the side. Turns out, the workout that keeps this 83-year-old kicking is a pretty tough one. Forget aqua-aerobics and nursing home dance cardio-Ginsburg’s workout would make a solid addition to your regimen too-if you can make it through. (Put yourself to the test with these other six important bodyweight strength moves you need to master.)
First, she warms up with five minutes on the elliptical, then a few minutes of stretching. She follows it up with the machine chest press (set at about 60 to 70 pounds, which is no freaking joke). She moves on over to the leg extension machine to work those quads and adds some leg curls to hit her hammies. Next up is wide-grip lat pull-downs, seated rows, the butterfly press (or chest fly), and a standing cable row.
From there, she even goes on to do one-legged squats onto a bench, which, ICYMI, are hard AF. Regardless, Johnson says when Ginsburg trains, “There is no break.”
Then she moves onto multiple sets of push-ups (NOT “girl” push-ups, mind you) and uneven push-ups with one hand on a medicine ball (just in case her upper body wasn’t already burning). (Want to get on her level? Start with this 30-day push-up challenge.) Then the focus moves to core with one minute and 30 seconds of planks and side planks, and some good ol’ fashioned hip abduction and adduction moves to strengthen the hips and glutes. She does various versions of step-ups and even squats on an upside-down Bosu ball. After that, she grabs some 3-lb dumbbells to hit some bicep curls, dumbbell wall squats with an exercise ball behind her back, and an exercise that Johnson says is incredibly important: a medicine ball squat-throw onto a bench. In Johnson’s words, “if you cannot do this exercise, you will need a nurse 24-7.” (Related: How Fit Are You Really?)
Ginsburg usually aces this routine twice a week at 7 pm at a gym right inside the Supreme Court. You must be thinking, “she must have a killer playlist to get her through all that.” In reality? She fuels her workout with PBS NewsHour…What else?
- By Lauren Mazzo @lauren_mazzo
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Dan DeFigio a personal trainer and the director of Basics and Beyond Fitness, Nutrition, and Rehabilitation, who has a 25-year track record working with seniors, notes strength training and balance work as the two most crucial types of exercise for seniors.
“Weight training not only helps seniors to build muscle, lose fat, and improve day-to-day function, but it also makes a significant improvement to bone density,” DeFigio says. “Bone strength is hugely important (hip fractures are the main cause for seniors to be admitted to nursing homes). Balance work is very important for fall prevention too. Basic strength exercise can also help with flexibility, cardiorespiratory function and ease arthritis pain.”
Illustrations by Patrick Welsh from THE RBG WORKOUT: How She Stays Strong… and You Can Too! by Bryant Johnson. Illustrations copyright (C) 2017 by Patrick Welsh. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
RBG won’t do an exercise if the purpose isn’t clear
Despite designing a workout targeted for senior health, and getting the medical clearance needed, Johnson’s workout wasn’t an immediate sell to RBG.
“When I showed it to her she looked at me like I was stuck on stupid and locked on dumb,” Johnson recalls, chuckling. “I broke everything down simple as a shotgun so she would see why these exercises were beneficial.”
This is a woman who doesn’t waste her time, and she is still quick to put Johnson on the spot when introduced to a new exercise or add-on.
“With , I always have to prove the method to my madness,” says Johnson. “Take the ‘multipurpose exercise’ at the very end of the book. She needed to know why she had to do that. I said, ‘Justice, if you can’t do this one exercise, you would need a nurse 24/7.’ She looked at me to defend my statement. I had her sit on the bench, handed her a weight ball, and had her toss to me with both hands 10 times. I said, ‘You’re doing this because the moment you cannot to get off a toilet you lose independence. We do it at the end of session because when you have to go to the bathroom it doesn’t matter if you’re tired.”
Illustrations by Patrick Welsh from THE RBG WORKOUT: How She Stays Strong… and You Can Too! by Bryant Johnson. Illustrations copyright (C) 2017 by Patrick Welsh. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Even when she’s been working all night RBG still shows up
After nearly 20 years of evolving to the workout in her name, RBG has mastered the plank and other difficult poses (not to mention weight-lifting and balance ball routines), but consistency and patience have been pivotal to her success. She didn’t dive into crunches but instead built up to them slowly and safely.
“We started off doing crunches by bringing knees and elbows together like a clam and I’d try to push them apart,” Johnson says. “Once we did that for a while I started having her do the planks. She doesn’t like the planks too much. Also pistol squats, where she stands and lifts one leg and I hold her arms. She doesn’t care for them, but she doesn’t fight me because she realizes how much this helps.”
Ginsburg also realizes that some days she won’t be up to the most vigorous version of her workout. That’s okay. She does what she can — but she never bails.
“Before you can do any exercise you have to show up both mentally and physically, which she always does,” says Johnson. “Sometimes she’s been working all night and hasn’t slept. So we adjust it a bit, maybe skip the stability ball and use the bench instead. But she always shows up.”
The workouts are a great way for RBG to unplug from work
RBG shows up for her body’s health, sure, but likely also for her peace of mind.
“The workouts help her because she is so focused on the law all the time,” says Johnson. “But when she’s with me she doesn’t think about it. She turns off the brain and works on her body. This keeps her refreshed so she can go back to the law having had a break.”
Before starting these exercises get a trainer and doctor’s clearance
The RBG Workout is a great regimen, but those interested, particularly seniors or people recovering from a serious illness as RBG was when she began, are advised not to jump in without consulting their doctor and working with a personal trainer.
“In the beginning I always recommend someone to help and coach you,” says Johnson. “Get clearance from your doctor, find a certified personal trainer and tell them what you want to gain. If you don’t like what they’re offering, get a different one. You have to trust that person, and they have to remember that it’s never about them; it’s about you. They have to say, ‘How can I adjust my exercises to help the client and celebrate their victory?’ If you hate something, it’s okay not to do it, just find an alternative.”
TRY THESE FITNESS ROUTINES
- 10 core exercises that are better for your back (and body) than crunches
- 5 exercises you can perform anywhere, anytime
- A 10-minute cardio workout you can do at home
- 5 exercises that will strengthen your back and reduce pain
- 8 exercises trainers never do (and what to do instead)
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Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Personal Trainer Says Saving Money Is a Lot Like Exercise. Here’s How
Happy Birthday, Ruth Bader Ginsburg! The inimitable Supreme Court justice, also known as RBG, turns 86 on Friday.
The justice, who has become something of a pop-culture and feminist icon in recent years, owes part of her longevity in life and career to her twice-weekly workouts with personal trainer Bryant Johnson. She’s been on the court for 26 years, and there’s good news for those who aspire to stay in their jobs (or at least enjoy life) for as long as she has: Ginsburg’s long-time trainer says it’s easier for older Americans to get in shape than they may think.
About 80% of seniors have at least one chronic disease and 25% struggle with some type of mental health disorder like dementia or depression, according to the National Council on Aging. But don’t write off health issues as just another part of getting older, says Johnson, 54, who is based in Washington, D.C. Many of them don’t have to be inevitable.
In fact, physical activity, whether you start tomorrow or you’ve been doing it for 30 years, is key to staying healthy and preventing (or at least mitigating) these kinds of common health issues that plague many of the older population.
“It’s never too late,” he says. “The only obstacle that you have to really deal with is the obstacle of self. Don’t say you can’t begin. You’re not too old until the party stops moving.”
Here are Johnson’s top tips for how folks can get in shape like a Supreme Court justice and save their hard-earned money in the process:
Just Start Moving
“The first thing I tell everyone is just do something,” says Johnson, a certified personal trainer and author of the book The RBG Workout, who has been working with Ginsburg for the last 20 years. “Move. Doesn’t matter. Just do something.”
Once you show up mentally, the physical part is easy, he says. Don’t second guess your physical abilities just because you’re older.
“If you’re looking at the senior population, they’re already resilient,” Johnson encourages. “They wouldn’t be the senior population if they weren’t resilient and they didn’t realize the commitment it took to be a senior person.”
The body is made to move, and the age-old adage is true — if you don’t move it, you lose it, he says. If you are someone who feels overwhelmed by the gym, don’t sweat it.
“If you like to walk, start by walking,” Johnson advises. “If you like to dance, then dance. Bowl. Badminton. Whatever you like to do, do some type of movement always.”
Don’t get caught up with trying to do a whole hour a day, either. Start small.
“Think about saving ,” he says. “If you do a little bit, consistently over a period of time, it will add up. Exercise is the same thing.”
Ginsburg started training with Johnson after her first bout with cancer in the 90s, when her husband noticed she looked especially frail after undergoing treatment, says Johnson (always consult with your doctor before doing strenuous or new exercise if you have a medical condition). They do most of her training together at the Supreme Court gym, though some of their sessions take place at her home. But you don’t have to belong to a fancy gym or hire a professional to begin building some muscle.
You Already Have Everything You Need To Work Out
Although walking and dancing are good starting points, body weight training — that is, using your own weight to do a workout — is the type of exercise that is most valuable for seniors, many of whom need to build up their bone density and physical strength overall, Johnson says. Exercises that improve balance are also important, since that capacity tends to diminish with age.
You can do body weight training, which helps build bone density, at home for free. Take squats, for example. A squat is simply sitting down and standing up 10 times on a chair. If you want to add more weight to your squat, just hold a book or a backpack, or even your grandchild. You can also buy resistance tubes, an inexpensive exercise tool that costs as little as $5-10, to improve your workouts.
Johnson recommends RBG’s famous push-ups for all seniors, and says he thinks they’ve become one of her favorite exercises since she mastered them.
“When she was able to finally do push-ups off of her knees, she lit up,” he says. “It was like part of her soul just came back, that strength.” She worked her way to up that by doing push-ups off the wall.
A round of push-ups is important because “it works so many different parts of the body.” Start like Ginsburg against the wall, then move to your knees (use a pad or pillow for support if you need to, or lean against a table or desk instead if you have any kind of knee issues or injury) and then try them from the floor once you are comfortable.
Another senior-specific exercise Johnson recommends to his clients is practicing the art of falling and getting back up again. Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in senior citizens in the U.S., according to NCOA, and there are more than 2.8 million emergency visits for these falls every year.
“Just get down onto the floor and then get up off of the floor,” he says. “That works so many muscles in your body, it’s ridiculous. Why do I have you do that? Well what happens if you fall? You have to know how to get up off of the floor.”
An added bonus? Exercise also releases endorphins into the brain, which helps keep you happy, in addition to offering you a mental break from your job if you have an intense workload like RBG.
Don’t Make Excuses (You Have RGB to Thank for This One)
About a year ago, an older man told Johnson he was too old to work out.
“Yeah? She’s 85.” He says he told the man about Ginsburg. He then tried to tell Johnson he was too busy to start exercising.
“I said, she’s a Supreme Court justice.” And when he said his back problems were too bad for physical activity?
“She’s been through three bouts of cancer,” Johnson replied. You are never too old or too weak, he says. And he believes seniors already intuitively understand this.
Lastly, you surely want to spend less of your retirement savings on doctor’s visits and more on vacations or other fun things. Johnson had a friend who told him she couldn’t afford to retire because she wouldn’t be able to afford her medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol, arthritis and diabetes. He told her that was ironic: If she started working out, she could most likely significantly improve all of those medical conditions on her own.
“You retire, but you can’t even enjoy your retirement because you spend all your time in a doctor’s office instead of enjoying the money that you made,” he says. If you exercise, you can reduce or avoid those ailments, and hold on to the money you otherwise would have spent to treat them.
The bottom line, according to Johnson?
“Exercise is a silver bullet that increases your quality of life.”
Ginsburg wanted to get back in shape after her chemo treatments in 1999.
“You look like an Auschwitz survivor,” her late husband, Martin, told the justice, she has recalled.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer making a point during a panel discussion also featuring Justice Elana Kagan at the 2014 General Assembly conference of the Jewish Federations of North America in suburban Washington, November 9, 2014. (photo credit: JTA/Ron Sachs)
Ginsburg asked her former colleagues on the DC District Court for a recommendation of a trainer who could accommodate a judge’s schedule. Judge Gladys Kessler (yes, also Jewish) recommended Johnson, who as a court employee had become popular among District Court judges. Johnson designed a program to build up the bone and muscle density that chemo costs a patient. In 2017, it became a book, “The RBG Workout.” (“How She Stays Strong … and You Can TOO!”)
Since then, save for a deployment to Kuwait from 2004 to 2007, Johnson has met with Ginsburg twice weekly for an hour or so.
They don’t chat much during the exercise routine — Johnson was raised in Virginia by a grandmother who was deaf and did not know sign language, so he’s become adept at nonverbal communication. During their sessions, he has acquired a taste for Ginsburg’s favorite background noises: classical music and “PBS Newshour.”
Johnson was aware of Ginsburg’s role in advancing civil liberties as a litigant before the Supreme Court in the 1970s and ’80s, and then in protecting them since her appointment in 1993. It wasn’t until recently, however, that he internalized how important they were to him personally: Johnson, who is African-American, is an equal opportunity adviser in the Army Reserves.
Ginsburg, Johnson notes, cut her teeth on a Supreme Court decision in 1973, Frontiero v. Richardson, that determined that servicewomen were entitled to housing allowances. He faces “similar challenges,” he says, in his Army Reserves work.
“I told a couple of soldiers ‘You wouldn’t have these rights,’” if it weren’t for Ginsburg, he says.
Ginsburg over the years has given Johnson a number of books about her, and a table in his office is decorated with them (although pride of place is reserved for his RBG workout).
Johnson confesses to not having read the books, saying “She didn’t pay me to be her fanboy!” (He won’t say how much he charges, but suggests that his fee for Ginsburg has not hiked much since 1999.)
Now, in this Ginsburgian moment fueled by liberal anxiety about whether Trump might have the opportunity to replace her, he is curious about the justice. He saw last year’s CNN documentary “RBG,” and the new Hollywood movie based on her 1970s breakthroughs, “On the Basis of Sex.”
“It was amazing,” he says of the documentary.
‘On the Basis of Sex’ recalls that when Ruth Ginsburg entered Harvard Law School in 1956, she was one of nine women in the class, the sixth ever to accept women. (Jonathan Wenk/Focus Features/via JTA)
The documentary, while bordering on the hagiographic, is seeded throughout with concerns that Ginsburg is less than aware of her own mortality. (She survived another bout of cancer — pancreatic — in 2009, and last month had malignant growths removed from her lungs.) She still pulls all-nighters, and it is clear the absence of her husband, who died in 2010 and was the only person capable of talking her away from the office, has unsettled those close to her.
“Bubbe, you were asleep during the State of the Union, you can’t do that,” her granddaughter Clara Spera recalls telling her in “RBG.”
In Martin Ginsburg’s absence, Johnson appears to have become something of a rock for her.
“I am often consumed by the heavy lifting Supreme Court judging entails, reluctant to cease work until I’ve got it right,” she writes in a foreword to his book. “But when time comes to meet with Bryant, I leave off and join him at the gym for justices.”
Ginsburg asked Johnson to come with her to a swearing-in session for new citizens last month at the National Archives, and he called the session to order, temporarily establishing the archives as a court. He says his commanding voice, developed in the military, has led to him being asked to open court sessions.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg chats with her granddaughter, Clara Spera. (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/via JTA)
In the documentary, Johnson is the man who nay-says the naysayers.
“She’s like a cyborg,” he says. “When I say cyborg, she’s like a machine.”
I get similar reassurances.
“She’s never used that four-letter word ‘can’t,’” Johnson says. “She’s tough as nails.”
But then it becomes clear that he, too, is concerned. Johnson speaks of her fall last month that led to three broken ribs (and the discovery of the growths on her lungs).
“That was a result of her being tired,” he says. “If you know the justice and her relentless work ethic — sometimes I have to protect her from herself.”
Still, she has some limits. Kagan likes to box, and Johnson once caught Ginsburg eyeing gloves that her high-court colleague had left in the gym.
“Are you into that?” Johnson asked Ginsburg.
“No,” she replied. “We’ll just leave that.”