September 21, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Legacy

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a towering women’s rights champion who became the court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington. She was 87.” AP News

Both sides paid tribute to Ginsburg’s trailblazing life and legacy:

“We live in a time in America when we take for granted the strides our nation and society have made. We convince ourselves we are irredeemable, that our advancements don’t really amount to much stacked up against the oft-ugly history of our nation. Ruth Bader Ginsburg puts the lie to those solipsistic notions. The America in which she graduated law school had a deep flaw of holding back women, but this American, this woman who would not be stopped changed that….

“No one of us, no group of us can ever truly define America. America is in fact the process of coming to that definition. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had definite ideas about that, most of which conservatives balk at. But the way she went about it, the respect and even love she had for those with whom her disagreements could not be more fundamental, needs to be a beacon for us now. Now that we hate each other and end friendships and feel the dark cloud of disdain for our neighbors, we need to look to Ginsburg and remember it does not have to be this way.”
David Marcus, The Federalist

“Ginsburg is the rare supreme court justice whose most significant work was done before she joined the court. She changed the course of American law not as a supreme court justice, but as a lawyer, the founder and general counsel of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. Ginsburg began the project in 1972, the same year she joined the faculty of Columbia Law as a professor; by 1974, the project had participated in nearly 300 gender discrimination cases nationwide. Ginsburg personally argued six gender discrimination cases before the then all-male supreme court, winning five. She built on her victories one by one, establishing precedents that made future victories easier to win…

“Ginsburg has frequently been compared to Thurgood Marshall, the great supreme court justice and African American civil rights jurist. It is a comparison that she reportedly disliked – with typical modesty, she felt it gave her too much credit, and was quick to emphasize that, unlike the Black jurist, she had never felt that her safety was under serious threat. But there is something to the comparison between their careers, particularly the extent to which they focused on using the law to open opportunities for the marginalized… Ginsburg and Marshall saw vast swaths of the American people who had been excluded from the American promise, and they spent their careers forcing the law to recognize those people’s humanity and dignity.”
Moira Donegan, The Guardian

“On what remains perhaps the most sensitive constitutional question of our time, whether the Constitution protects against government’s interference in a woman’s decision to medically terminate a pregnancy, Ginsburg was critical of the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which lodged abortion rights—rather precariously, it turns out—as a matter of privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. For her, it was more about gender equality under the Equal Protection Clause…

“Ginsburg also feared that Roe went too fast for the public which, ironically, had been steadily moving toward legalizing abortion through state legislatures, not the courts. The court ‘ventured too far in the change it ordered in Roe,’ she wrote in a 1985 law review article… The Senate should heed Justice Ginsburg’s exquisitely blended strains of legal conservativism and liberalism as they contemplate who has the intellectual rigor, honesty and temperament to replace her.”
Kimberly Wehle, Politico

“Ginsburg dedicated herself wholeheartedly to the job. Until 2019, she never missed an oral argument—a remarkable testament to her commitment to the job given that she previously battled cancer in 1999 and 2009, lost her beloved husband in 2010, and underwent a heart procedure in 2014. Even when she was hospitalized for a gallbladder infection during the COVID-19 pandemic, she still participated in oral arguments, asking questions from her hospital bed…

“When Time magazine honored Ginsburg in 2015 by naming her one of the 100 most influential people in the world, [Justice Antonin] Scalia wrote that it was ‘apparent for all to see’ that Ginsburg’s opinions were ‘always thoroughly considered, always carefully crafted and almost always correct (which is to say we sometimes disagree).’ But, he added, ‘[w]hat only her colleagues know is that her suggestions improve the opinions the rest of us write, and that she is a source of collegiality and good judgment in all our work.’”
John G. Malcolm and Elizabeth Slattery, Fox News

Scalia’s son Eugene writes, “What we can learn from [Justices Ginsburg and Scalia] — beyond how to be a friend — is how to welcome debate and differences. The two justices had central roles in addressing some of the most divisive issues of the day, including cases on abortion, same-sex marriage and who would be president. Not for a moment did one think the other should be condemned or ostracized. More than that, they believed that what they were doing — arriving at their own opinions thoughtfully and advancing them vigorously — was essential to the national good. With less debate, their friendship would have been diminished, and so, they believed, would our democracy.”
Eugene Scalia, Washington Post

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Right

From the Left

Perspectives from Ginsburg’s former law clerks:

Most of what I know about writing I learned from her.  The rules are actually pretty simple:  Every word matters.  Don't make the simple complicated, make the complicated as simple as it can be (but not simpler!). You're not finished when you can't think of anything more to add to your document; you're finished when you can't think of anything more that you can remove from it. She enforced these principles with a combination of a ferocious—almost a terrifying—editorial pen, and enough judicious praise sprinkled about to let you know that she was appreciating your efforts, if not always your end-product. And one more rule: While you're at it, make it sing

“She had the kind of fierce integrity that I think we all would want to see in a judge; she was always determined to get it right, to do right by the litigants and to do right by the law. She had her biases and her blind spots; we all do.  But I have often said that if my life were on the line, I'd be happy if she were on the bench, because she would be as fair-minded when weighing the evidence as one could ever ask for.”
David Post, Volokh Conspiracy

“Today we take for granted her vision of gender equality. But we should never forget that it was not until 1971 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex. That was Justice Ginsburg’s case — Reed v. Reed, which challenged the rule that men were the preferred administrators of estates of deceased persons, and that gave a grieving mother the right to administer the estate of the son she lost…

“The magnitude of her legal legacy cannot be overstated. But her impact was even greater because she modeled for us and for women and girls around the world how to live a life that reflected her legal vision. She demanded a lot from her law clerks, but demanded even more from herself. She was the hardest working, most deliberate person either one of us has ever worked for. She taught us to be strong and to stand behind our work. She gave countless women and men opportunities and support in the life of the law. She got to know all of our children. Her famous faxes came across the channels at all hours of the night… Even at the very end, she reminded us how much more work there is left to do.”
Abbe R. Gluck and Gillian E. Metzger, New York Times

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