March 15, 1933– Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
“All of the incentives, all of the benefits that marriage affords would still be available. So you’re not taking away anything from heterosexual couples. They would have the very same incentive to marry, all the benefits that come with marriage that they do now.“
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts thinks we are all stupid, I guess. He said there are no such thing as “Trump judges”, just judges doing their best, and that we should be thankful for an independent judiciary.
But the court is totally partisan. The conservative majority continually votes on cases with political ramifications. It’s not “equal rights” they strive for but the dominance of whatever constitutional interpretation theory they are going for now, including the “original intent” of the founding fathers; including the 21st century issues such as Voting Rights, Religious Liberty, guns, money in politics, and POTUS’s immigration policies.
As the White Nationalist president sought re-election, his rightward overhaul of the federal judiciary was invoked as one of his best accomplishments. His judges, like the president himself, break significantly with the norms set by his Democratic and Republican predecessors.
They are more openly engaged in causes important to Republicans, such as opposition to same-sex marriage and to government funding for abortion. They are overwhelmingly young, male and very conservative. They handed down more than 10,000 decisions and dissents in 2020. Several had been on 45’s Supreme Court shortlist, including that delightful, daffy Christian martyr, Amy Coney Island Beret.
In 2019, NYPD’s hate crimes unit investigated slur-ridden “DIE” graffiti scrawled on a Brooklyn subway station poster of Ginsburg. It was a poster ad for the book, The Unstoppable Ruth Bader Ginsburg: American Icon by Antonia Felix that came out to mark her 25th year on the Supreme Court.
In 2019, she was hospitalized after fracturing three ribs in a fall in her office at the Supreme Court. A day later it was reported that Ginsburg had returned to official judicial work after a day of observation. An outpouring of public support followed. A CAT scan following her fall showed cancerous nodules in her lungs. On December 21, Ginsburg underwent a left-lung lobectomy to remove the nodules. On January 7, 2019, for the first time since joining the Court more than 25 years earlier, Ginsburg missed oral arguments while she recuperated. She returned to SCOTUS in March 2019.
In August 2019, SCOTUS announced that Ginsburg had recently completed three weeks of focused radiation treatment to a tumor found in her pancreas. On January 7, 2020, Ginsburg reported that she is again cancer free.
Marriage Equality is now a Constitutional right everywhere in America, thanks to the SCOTUS’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015. It was a majority decision of 5 to 4, but there was one Justice who has stood out above the rest as a steadfast and fierce supporter of all LGBTQ Rights, and we like to call her “The Notorious RBG”.
Ginsburg’s support was crucial, from her personal opinion of the American public’s shifting attitude to the earlier oral arguments and, ultimately, the historical decision that says anyone in any state can marry the person they love. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joined Ginsburg in agreeing that gay couples should be free to marry in all 50 states. We all know who declined.
Ginsburg was at the top of her class at Harvard Law in 1959, and after graduating she did not receive a single job offer. (Neither did Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she graduated from Stanford Law, seven years earlier). Ginsburg had to beg for work. Finally, a favorite Harvard professor had to pressure a U.S. Federal Judge in Manhattan to hire Ginsburg, threatening the judge he’d never recommend another Columbia University student to him unless he gave Ginsburg the big break. Her first assignment was to study Civil Law in Sweden. She learned Swedish for the job. She next taught at Rutgers Law School, and received tenure in 1969.
Before that landmark decision, Ginsburg had already been very vocal about same-sex marriage:
“The change in people’s attitudes on this issue has been enormous. In recent years, people have said: ‘This is the way I am’. And others looked around, and discovered they are our next-door neighbors, we’re very fond of them. Or it’s our child’s best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that ‘this is who I am’, the rest of us recognized that they are one of us.“
Ginsburg used her noted wit to shut down the opposing side’s arguments. When “tradition” was brought up as an argument to maintain the marriage status quo, she countered by pointing out the extremely antiquated laws that defined marriage as being between a dominant male and a subordinate female. Except for conservative Christians, that was a marriage tradition that desperately needed to be challenged, just like the opponents’ idea of marriage as only between a man and a woman.
When John Bursch, the lawyer representing the states who want to keep their same-sex marriage bans, argued that marriage was all about procreating, Ginsburg said:
“Suppose a couple, a 70-year-old couple, comes in and they want to get married? You don’t have to ask them any questions. You know they are not going to have any children.“
She even officiated at a same-sex wedding earlier, already a sign of her advocacy, where she also dropped a sly hint about the impending SCOTUS decision. When she pronounced Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director Michael Kahn and New York City architect Charles Mitchem, to be “husband and husband”, Ginsburg emphasized the word constitution as she said: “By the powers vested in me by the Constitution of the United States.”
Ginsburg was only the second female SCOTUS Justice. The first was O’Conner, she was joined by Sotomayor and Kagan, and she is only the sixth Jew. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Ginsburg claims that she had been taught from childhood to champion Equality and to cherish independence:
“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the 1940s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.“
Ginsburg held her seat as Supreme Court Justice for 28 years. She remains one of the most important and articulate legal thinkers and interpreters of the Constitution. She was also a funny and engaged writer and speaker. She was a passionate fan of the opera, an avocation she shared with her unlikely pal, the now stiff Antonin Scalia. Ironically, the unusual friendship between the liberal, Jewish, well-spoken woman and the brash, Catholic, conservative bulldog is the subject of Scalia/Ginsburg, an opera by composer Derrick Wang . It was presented at the Castleton Festival last summer. The opera about the pair of opera lovers, also celebrates the virtues of SCOTUS with an affectionate, comic look at the two unofficial leaders of its conservative and liberal wings. The premiere was highly anticipated and was attended by Ginsburg, who was warmly received by the audience; Scalia was in Rome saying his rosary and didn’t attend.
Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court, she had been nominated by President Jimmy Carter and served from 1980-1993 on the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1972, while still just a lawyer, Ginsburg helped launch The Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Throughout the 1970s, she litigated a series of cases solidifying a constitutional principle against gender-based discrimination. From 1972- 1980, she was a professor at Columbia University School of Law.
Time listed her as one of the Time‘s 100 Icons. Forbes magazine named Ginsburg as one of its 100 Most Powerful Women. She has also been named to the Stephen Rutledge List of All Time Top Fashion Icons for her signature collection of lace jabots from around the world. She wore a black one with gold embroidery and faceted stones when issuing her dissents, and another that is crocheted yellow and cream with crystals that she wears when issuing majority opinions.
Ginsberg was a three-time cancer survivor. She stated that the court’s work helped her cope with the death of her husband Martin Ginsburg in 2010 (they were together 56 years). She has also stated that she has found a role model in Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired after nearly 35 years on the bench at 90 years old.
“As long as I can do the job full-steam, I would like to stay here. I have to take it year by year at my age, and who knows what could happen next year? Right now, I know I’m OK.“
Ginsburg, as you probably know, was no fan of the 45th president:
“We’re not experiencing the best of times, but the Women’s March protests give me reason to hope that we will see a better day.
A great man once said that the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle; it is the pendulum, and when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back. Some terrible things have happened in the United States, but one can only hope that we learn from those bad things.“
Ginsburg defended the free press, the target of attacks from the 45th president, who called the media “an enemy of the American People”. Ginsburg says that she read both The Washington Post and The New York Times every day and believed:
“Reporters are trying to tell the public the way things are. What is important is that we have a free press, which many countries don’t have. Think of what the press has done in the United States.“
She cited The Washington Post‘s Watergate investigation, and the work of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in exposing the Watergate scandal that eventually brought President Richard Nixon‘s resignation. Ginsburg lived in the famous Watergate building:
“That story might never have come out if we didn’t have the free press that we do.“
After the 2016 Republican National Convention, Ginsburg incurred the wrath of you-know-who, when she told CNN:
“He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has a huge ego.“
Critics claimed that she had crossed the line.
Ginsburg’s memoir My Own Words was published in 2016.
Until her death last September, Ginsburg worked with a personal trainer in the Supreme Court’s exercise room, and for many years could lift more than both Justices Breyer and Kagan. Until the 2018 term, Ginsburg had not missed a day of oral arguments, not even when she was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, after surgery for colon cancer. She proved time and again that she was a force to be reckoned with, and those who doubted her capacity to effectively complete her judicial duties needed only to look at her record in oral arguments, where she was, until her death, among the most avid questioners on the bench.
On The Basis Of Sex (2018) is a film based on her early cases. Directed by Mimi Leder, it stars Felicity Jones as Ginsburg, with the now canceled Armie Hammer as Martin Ginsburg. The film received generally favorable reviews from critics with praise for the performance by Jones. RBG (2018) is a documentary film directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, about Ginsburg. It received positive reviews from critics and grossed $14 million worldwide. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as the Best Documentary Film of 2018, and it was nominated for BAFTA Award and Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature. It is streaming on Amazon.