ONE WASHINGTON PURSE-SNATCHER may be wishing he had chosen his victim on the night of Nov. 7 with a little more care. The faded 10-year-old leather purse that he yanked from the shoulder of a slight 63-year-old woman offered up not only cash, a key, credit cards and a pair of spectacles but also a government ID in a black jacket marked U.S. Supreme Court and reading Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The miscreant did make off with $40—but now he has the D.C. Metropolitan Police, the Supreme Court Police, the FBI and the Secret Service on his tail.

After a cozy hearthside dinner of onion tart and tuna medallion at La Chaumière, a French restaurant in Georgetown, Ginsburg, her husband Martin, 64, an attorney, and her daughter Jane, 41, a Columbia University law professor who was in town for a long weekend, decided to walk back to the Ginsburgs' Watergate apartment on New Hampshire Avenue, 20 minutes away. At about 10:45 p.m., as the three came down the street across from the apartment complex, a man wearing a blue-and-white satin jacket grabbed Ginsburg's beige shoulder bag from behind and fled into the night. Ginsburg, President Bill Clinton's first Supreme Court nominee in 1993, promptly alerted D.C. police.

The robbery left the Brooklyn native "shaken up," says Supreme Court spokeswoman Toni House. But although Ginsburg may be small in stature (just over five feet, she needed a cushion to reach the microphone during her Senate confirmation hearings), House says, "she is pretty tough." She reported to work as usual Friday morning for the 9 a.m. justices' conference.

With the full force of the law now after him, the purse thief, wherever he is, has one consolation, apart from the justice's money: If captured, he will be tried in a much lower court.