Posts tagged ‘Obituary’

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 1933-2020

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1977 / Credit: Lynn Gilbert


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived a remarkable life. Appointed to the nation’s highest court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, she presented herself as someone who was soft-spoken while also distinguishing herself a firebrand of the court’s progressive wing and, in her octogenarian years, a cultural icon, being dubbed “the notorious RBG” by her fans. Her death on Friday brought raw mourning, moving tributes, and a looming political melee as Republicans and Democrats began to draw their battle lines with President Trump already preparing to nominate a new, likely far more conservative, judge to serve as the justice who, if confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, would fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat.

There has been much that has already been said about Justice Ginsburg at her passing. And, with the hindsight afforded us by history, there will surely be much more to say into the future about her and her legacy. Her judicial philosophy alone will no doubt be the subject of many yet-to-be-published books as we, as a nation, continue to debate the merits of Constitutional interpretation philosophies like textualism, originalism, and her preferred method of seeing the Constitution as a living document, subject to broader interpretations that can reflect our zeitgeist.

Philosophically, I have questions about Justice Ginsburg’s method of Constitutional interpretation. I have reservations about many of the opinions she rendered. I stand opposed to her view of and her advocacy for abortion. Nevertheless, many of the stories that have been shared about her upon her passing deserve our reflection. In an article for Slate Magazine, Dahlia Lithwick recalls Justice Ginsburg’s humble sense of self. The justice knew she was the beneficiary of the hard work of many who came before her. She may have been called a pioneer, but she never forgot that she was also a payee. Ms. Lithwick writes:

Whenever she spoke, Justice Ginsburg was at pains to say that she stood on the shoulders of giants. At her confirmation hearings, in her prepared statement to the Senate, she was meticulous about who truly deserved the credit for her landmark career, and it wasn’t RBG: “We could not have come to this point – and I surely would not be in this room today – without the determined efforts of men and women who kept dreams of equal citizenship alive in days when few would listen. People like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Harriet Tubman come to mind. I stand on the shoulders of those brave people.” I never heard her give a public speech in which she didn’t thank, by name, the allies, champions, fighters, of whom she inevitably saw herself as a beneficiary; she cast herself as someone lucky enough to be in a long line of champions and fighters, and also as someone set and determined to pay it forward to the people who would someday stand on her shoulders.

Her gratitude for how others had shaped her and paved the way for her is something worth emulating, for we too ought to be thankful to those who, by their sacrifices, have made our lives better and our opportunities broader.

But it wasn’t just Justice Ginsburg’s gratitude for others that endeared her to so many; it was her warmth toward others. Her friendship with the late devotedly conservative justice, Antonin Scalia, has become the stuff of legend. Upon her death, Justice Scalia’s son shared a story from Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who clerked for Justice Scalia in the early 90s, who admitted to being confused by Justice Scalia’s close friendship with Justice Ginsburg:

During one of my last visits with Justice Scalia, I saw striking evidence of the Scalia-Ginsburg relationship. As I got up to leave his chambers, he pointed to two dozen roses on his table and noted that he needed to take them down to “Ruth” for her birthday. “Wow,” I said, “I doubt I have given a total of twenty-four roses to my wife in almost thirty years of marriage.” “You ought to try it sometime,” he retorted. Unwilling to give him the last word, I pushed back: “So what good have all these roses done for you? Name one five-four case of any significance where you got Justice Ginsburg’s vote.” “Some things,” he answered, “are more important than votes.”

As we enter into what is sure to be a contentious nomination fight and presidential election, maybe we should let Justice Scalia have the last word as we remember Justice Ginsburg: some things are more important than votes. Why? Because better than the wielding power is loving people.

His words are words to live by as we energetically debate in the months to come who should fill her seat.

September 21, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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