Although she didn't mention President Donald Trump by name, she said the country was not mindful of "what makes America great" while stressing the importance of a free speech and "the idea of our nation being receptive to all people, welcoming all people."
"For the most part, those are our ideals, our treasured First Amendment and the notion that in our nation we are many and yet we are one," she said in a discussion moderated by NPR's Nina Totenberg and co-sponsored by the Newseum and the Supreme Court Fellows Association in Washington.
It is rare for a member of the high court to speak out on the current state of the country, and Ginsburg's observations come months after the characteristically outspoken justice courted controversy when she criticized
Trump, calling him a "faker." Trump harshly replied, quipping, "Her mind is shot." A few days later, she issued an apology and said the remarks were inappropriate for a judge to make.
On Thursday, she noted the importance of diversity and said she herself was a beneficiary of a father who was able "to leave the old world where the conditions were not good to come here and make a living and raise a family -- that is America to me, " she said to a round of applause.
The justice also weighed in on Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, whom she knows personally.
"I think he is very easy to get along with. He writes very well," she said.
'Not experiencing the best of times'
In an earlier interview
with the BBC that aired on Thursday, the Supreme Court's eldest member and liberal stalwart used similarly stark terms for the state of the country, faith in its institutions and problems in the legislative branch -- all while talking around its newly minted leader, Trump.
"I would say that we are not experiencing the best of times, but there's hope in seeing how the public is reacting to it," Ginsburg said.
She pointed to the demonstrations following Trump's inauguration as "reason to hope that we will see a better day."
"The Women's March -- I've never seen such a demonstration, both the numbers and the rapport of the people in that crowd. There was no violence. It was orderly," Ginsburg said.
Ginsburg, who was appointed by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, also praised freedom of the press in the United States and said it is important to guarantee that freedom.
"I live in the famous Watergate. That story might never have come out if we didn't have the free press," Ginsburg said, referring to the scandal that led to former President Richard Nixon's ouster.
Asked why she brought up the free press, Ginsburg cited two major newspapers as informative and defended the intentions of their reporters.
"I read The Washington Post and The New York Times every day," Ginsburg said. "I think that the reporters are trying to tell the public the way things are."
The court is currently in a four-four split between what has widely been regarded as its liberal and conservative wings following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year. To fill the vacant seat, Trump has nominated Gorsuch, a judge whose judicial philosophy has been similar to Scalia's. With the narrow split of the court and Ginsburg's age an obvious issue, she indicated she would continue to serve indefinitely.
"At my age, you have to take it year by year. I know I'm OK this year," Ginsburg told BBC. "I'm hopeful, however, because my most senior colleague, the one who most recently retired, Justice John Paul Stevens, stepped down at age 90, so I have a way to go."
Asked if she would serve until she was 90, Ginsburg responded: "As I said, at this age of my life, I take it year by year."