If you haven’t seen the documentary, RBG, do yourself a favor and see it. The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life from her birth (as a first-generation daughter born to immigrant parents), to her perseverance at Harvard and Columbia Law Schools when women were not considered intellectually or emotionally “strong” enough to be lawyers, to her appointment to the United States Supreme Court is remarkable.
She argued six cases before the United States Supreme Court, prevailing in five. Each case brought gender equality closer to a reality. One case she argued concerned a man denied Social Security survivor benefits for his deceased wife. She took the case and argued successfully before the court, demonstrating that discrimination based on gender is always wrong.
The most striking point of the documentary was the deep and abiding friendship and affection she shared with the late Antonin Scalia. One would be hard-pressed to find two more diametrically opposed legal points of view. Scalia, the strict constructionist conservative, and Ginsburg, the progressive liberal, often clash in their opinions. Yet, they maintained a genuine friendship. Among the many things they share, Scalia was also the child of an immigrant parent.
Their ability to argue their positions forcefully, rationally, and with reason, yet separate the personal from their professional responsibilities, epitomizes the best balance of what a Supreme Court should be.
They perfected the art of compromise. Not of their legal approach to the law, but in their recognition it is the consensus of legal thought that produces the most sound and beneficial law.
Our Declaration of Independence derived from a consensus
Our Constitution derived from a consensus
Our Bill of Rights derived from a consensus
In the current political climate of demonizing those with whom we disagree and idolizing those with whom we agree, we deny the one thing that preserves our system of government, the art of compromise and consensus.
The case Ginsburg argued before the court where she did not prevail (cases are not won and lost, it is not a sports contest. Even the final decision is called a Majority Opinion, not the final score) concerned equal pay for women. The court decision was based on the status of the law at the time which limited the time in which a complaint could be made.
Despite Ginsburg’s argument that victims of such practices do not learn of the problem for many years, the court took a strict interpretation of the law and ruled against the plaintiff and Ginsburg.
Recognizing the inherent inequity of the law, Congress passed legislation addressing the issue, and President Obama signed the bill into law. Congress reached a consensus, and the President concurred.
The system worked.
Every party in power tries to “stack” the court with those who hold similar legal views. Often, it has been the case that justices turn out to be neither as liberal nor as conservative as expected. That says much about the character and quality of the members of the court.
If “Democracy is the worst political system, except for all the others,” consensus is the foundation for our continued survival.
A Supreme Court comprised of those with the same political leanings would do more damage than good to America. As the friendship between Ginsburg and Scalia shows, our consensus of differences makes democracy stronger.
Anything else is a recipe for totalitarianism.
On another note, President Trump once again showcased to the world his fundamental misunderstanding (at best) or his “just doesn’t give a sh*t understanding (at worst) of the Criminal Justice system.
In a Tweet regarding Paul Manafort’s bail being revoked because of a new indictment for witness tampering, Trump wrote,
Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns. Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob. What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!
Is it too much to ask that the President of the United States understand the difference between a bail revocation hearing and a criminal trial? Something most high school freshmen could explain.
Then again, how can we expect that a man who can barely form a sentence would understand context and meaning in a legal setting?
I’d suggest the President watch RBG but, with his limited attention span, he’d miss the point.