May 28, 2024


The Legal System

Fact check: False Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote on age of consent

An image on social media makes the claim that Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “the age of consent for sexual acts must be lowered to age (sic) 12 years old.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg never said this.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Examples of the claim can be seen here , here and here .

The alleged quote has its origin in 1993 hearings on Bader Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton.

Susan Hirschmann presented this claim as fact at a July 1993 judiciary hearing (page 5 ). “The age of consent must be lowered to 12 years old” is Hirschmann’s interpretation of a recommendation put forth by Bader Ginsburg in the report “Sex Bias in the U.S. Code”, published by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR).

In August 1993, Thomas L. Jipping ( here ) similarly presented a series of arguments against Bader Ginsburg’s nomination, among them referencing the same USCCR report co-authored by Bader Ginsburg. He argued that, in this report, Bader Ginsburg’s recommendations included drafting women into the military, legalizing prostitution, constitutionally protecting bigamy, and “lowering the age of consent for sexual acts to 12 years.” (See page 12, central column, )

Sex Bias in the U.S. Code, the USCCR report, is visible online ) It was published in 1977, a date also referenced in some of the Facebook claims.

A section beginning on page 95 ( ) described how the law stood at the time (“Under 18 U.S.C. 1153 and 2032, it is a crime for a person to have carnal knowledge of a female not his wife who has not reached 16 years of age”) and noted that the legal definition of rape assumed the offender was a man and the victim was a woman. The report argued: “These provisions clearly fail to comply with the equal rights principle. They fail to recognize that women of all ages are not the only targets of sexual assault; men and boys can also be the victims of rape.”

On page 102, the report recommended removing the phrase “carnal knowledge of any female, not his wife who has not attained the age of sixteen years” and replacing it with “a Federal, sex-neutral definition of the offense patterned after S. 1400 section 1633”.

The report goes on to quote directly from S. 1400, which was a proposed Senate bill ( here ) under which a person would be guilty of an offense if they compelled someone else to take part in sex by force or threats, by drugging or intoxicating them, or if “the other person is, in fact, less than 12 years old”.

Bader Ginsburg was arguing in the report for a broader, gender-neutral definition of rape. The passage that her critics cite as evidence she favored lowering the age of consent is actually a quote from a proposed Senate bill, not from Bader Ginsburg. The focus of Bader Ginsburg’s argument was not on the age of consent, but on removing an antiquated definition that assumed only women could be targets of sexual assault.

Bader Ginsburg had put forward the same argument in an earlier report, “The Legal Status of Women under Federal Law”, co-authored with Brenda Feigen Fasteau in 1974 (see Title 18 section, page 78 of PDF ). Once again, the paper quotes directly from the 1973 Senate bill, S. 1400, as providing “a definition of rape that, in substance, conforms to the equality principle”.

Over time, the misinterpretations of Bader Ginsburg’s arguments in these reports have led to the type of claims seen in the Facebook posts where direct quotes are falsely attributed to her.

Slate tackled this misinformation when Senator Lindsey Graham repeated the claim in 2005 ( here ), as has the Washington Post ( here ) and Snopes ( here ).

Other iterations of this claim include the attribution of the false quote “pedophilia is good for the children” to Bader Ginsburg.


False. This is not a direct quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It stems from a false interpretation by third parties of legal recommendations presented by Bader Ginsburg in the 1970s.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here  .