“Overbroad generalisations will not suffice to deny women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, when declaring that the Virginia Military Institute could no longer prohibit women from its ranks.
Ginsburg, the second female Supreme Court Justice, was diminutive in size, yet outsize in force; her unusually powerful temperament became a spark for justice, a pacifier of division, and a great equaliser of inequality. Her first lead opinion in America’s highest court, affirmed in 1996, eschewed the irreverent lure that Ginsburg held; an equally loud, yet obstinately quiet beacon of hope; an elegant prevalence reserved only for humanity’s greatest.
Early in the morning of September 19th, the US Supreme Court confirmed that Ginsburg had passed, news that had caused even the most provocative of politicians- Donald Trump– to seem genuinely be taken aback upon first learning of her death.
As though it were almost a metaphor for her legendary-like spirit, Ginsburg had fought- and won- five times against cancer, whilst only missing two oral arguments in her long and distinguished career in the most authoritative court in the land.
Yet, her personal battles only serve to highlight the extraordinary principles that dictated her path in life and inspired so many to follow her lead.
“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, the other was to be independent” Ginsburg affirmed. To her, there was nothing peculiar about being a woman, no demonstrable impediment; rather, such sentiments were replaced by renewed feelings of courage and power. Her effects on the world’s most powerful women in American public life only serve to verify how, despite her softly spoken demeanour and her diminutive size, she provoked a brand of hope so grand, that her legacy will outsize that of many. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, two exemplary women in a still male-dominated political world, speak of the irrepressible influence she had.
Ginsburg will always walk in the company of giants.
In a statement released by another victor over prejudice and historic discrimination, Barack Obama, the former president mourned her passing, but evoked a far more immediately pressing thought: the conventions of the process for confirmation for her successor mustn’t be curtailed. In what he labelled as an ‘invented principle’ of waiting for an election to confirm a new Justice to the Supreme Court, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had done in 2016, Obama called for principle to suffice. McConnell, in his short statement responding to Ginsburg’s passing, promised to pursue a nomination. This, despite his argumentation in 2016, flagrantly disregards the ordinance and processes of congressional procedures- a dangerously flammable trend that could, in worse times, debilitate the legitimacy and integrity of American constitutional institutions.
The Republican control of the Senate, held since 2015, has reflected a narrowing obligation to follow the guide of constitutional norms; a rule change in 2017 meant that Supreme Court nominees only needed 51 votes, down from the previous threshold of 60. With the election only in November, fears are rising that a supercharged, flatulently rapid process will see a new judge jettisoned into the Supreme Court, almost at though it were a recognition of the Republicans’ clinging desperation following a wrecking-ball of a year that has been 2020.
Partisanism, short-termism and a redundancy of values threatens to desert the life’s work of Ginsburg, an advocate for the law and justice. Deference to Ginsburg will be short lived as the sheer force of political priorities take the reign.
For a moment, think of the damage this disregard for norms can have on the future. Imagine a political environment far more toxic than ours, where discourse is characterised by outrageously provocative politicians on the left and the right. Imagine, in, say, thirty years’ time, a radical, far-left figurehead has control over the Senate. He references McConnell’s idle spite for congressional norms, and proceeds to further distort the rule book, pivoting every election year for personal and political gain. Republicans, spitting with rage and rebuke, do more than hiss; they scream corruption.
McConnell’s actions today, however far fetched, threaten the unity and longevity of America tomorrow. This goes above and beyond political alignment- such deceptive political games harm democracy’s health and deplete its permanence in public life.
In this way, the symbolism of Ginsburg goes beyond her very actions: her figure, alongside the values she encompassed, could come to resemble the passing of the last great instalment of American dignity and hope. In seeking to replace her, America must stop and think: chaotically manipulating political processes, weaponizing the judiciary to ruthless political exploitation and relentlessly haemorrhaging the sanctity of democratic institutions will put the republic in great harm. Some have already indicated that they will resist: Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, may be one to dissent. Lisa Murkowski has said that she would in the past. The power of American values, espoused most forcefully by the legacy of Ginsburg, rely upon honesty and rebellion where integrity is exempted.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves America as a figure forged in principle, a colossus strengthened by justice; her legend destined for myth-like reverence. The United States- and humanity- have lost a fighter for progress, a linchpin for liberal values, a shining star in the American dream. America cannot falter in her passing; it must resist usurping the vacuum of credence that she leaves behind. Because if it doesn’t, it will have failed the legacy of Ginsburg, forever in the shadows of true justice; lost behind the empty vessels of the great American experiment.
The best way to honour the life of Ginsburg is to follow her words: “Dissenters speak to a future age…so that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”
In the America of 2020, these words are more than just fleeting sentiments. They are a call for action.