by Pat Carl
I’m not one to pray. So, let’s call it hoping against hope.
Yes, I’d been hoping against hope that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that brave, brave Supreme Court Justice, might hang on until after the US presidential election. Even Bader Ginsburg thought she might be on the Court “for at least 5 more years,” as she said in August of 2018.
But hope can be a dangerous thing, especially when it’s dashed on the rocks of reality. Then a person is apt to cry. I did.
I admit I immediately worried about the probable aftermath of Bader Ginsburg’s death, what it will mean as the Republican Senators, who hold the majority in the upper House of Congress, move quickly to affirm whichever stalwart, backward-thinking conservative The Donald nominates for Bader Ginsburg’s vacated seat.
The wrangling will be fierce, I fear, just another car-wreck-in-motion careening the Republic toward its agonizing, though no doubt lengthy death throes as Senate Democrats attempt to put off the push that Republicans and The Donald will orchestrate to move the Court further to the far, far right.
But, between my worry about our southern neighbour, I also cried because a truly exceptional, brilliant, driven, generous feminist completed the final moment in herstory as she took leave of life. A year earlier, Bader Ginsburg said she wanted to be remembered “as someone who did the best she could, made things better for the less well-off and moved society along a democratic path.”
She did that and more.
She was born and matured at just the right time to muscle her way into law school, at just the right time to insist on equal treatment by her professors and shame them into submission, at just the right time to craft the legal case for gender equity.
She served 27 years on the Supreme Court during which she was elevated to superstar status, as if leading the fight for gender equity for an entire decade didn’t qualify her as a star in the eyes of most American women.
Despite her academic brilliance and her driven work ethic in law school, Bader Ginsburg found law firm doors closed to her. She finally received an invitation to clerk at the Supreme Court which she did for two years starting in 1959.
Two years later, she landed a teaching gig at Rutgers University where she began crafting the arguments that overturned literally hundreds of federal statues which inherently discriminated against women on the basis of sex. For a decade, one statute after another fell in the face of Bader Ginsburg’s finely turned legal arguments. Bader Ginsburg’s crusade culminated, in 1971, with the US Supreme Court finding as unconstitutional a state statute that only males could be executors of final wills and testaments.
Many of Bader Ginsburg’s legal briefs argued that the “14th Amendment’s [to the US Constitution] guarantee of equal protection applies not just to racial and ethnic minorities but to women as well.”
By 1980, Bader Ginsburg was on the US Court of Appeals and by 1993, she was appointed to the US Supreme Court with a Senate vote of 96 to 3. When asked, Bader Ginsburg seemed especially proud of her dissenting arguments with the Court as she saw them as a chance to persuade future courts.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life was one well-lived, one that benefited generations of women to come, one in which she turned challenges into opportunities. She hung on to her life and her position on the Court for as long as she could. She did not “go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
May we all take hope from her life and times and from her “indisputable contribution to [United States] democracy.”