A holistic remembrance of RBG

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The death of 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has received international attention for its international implications. The Trump administration is eager to fill the new vacancy, and Democrats are scrambling to halt the process until after the 2020 presidential election. The course of America’s democracy is on the line, throwing the country into a deeper uncertainty.

Ginsburg left an indelible mark on this country’s history. She co-founded the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU in 1972, and her work and advocacy for gender equality ultimately broadened the 14th Amendment’s equal rights clause to include women. By the time she joined the Supreme Court, she helped wipe out nearly 200 laws that discriminated against women, including “cut[ting] a man’s hair, buy[ing] a drink at the same age [as men], administer[ing] an estate, and serv[ing] on a jury.”

However, nobody is perfect, and RBG is no exception. In the 2005 case City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, the Supreme Court ruled that the Oneida Indian Nation (OIN) did not have sovereignty over tribal lands that were purchased 200 years prior. Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court and sided with the majority. She claimed that the “long lapse of time, during which the Oneidas did not seek to revive their sovereign control through equitable relief in court, and the attendant dramatic changes in the character of the properties, preclude OIN from gaining the disruptive remedy it now seeks.” She had the opportunity to defend indigenous peoples’ rights in the U.S., but she deemed the reconciliation to be too inconvenient for what it was worth.

More recently, she caught headlines when she commented on the protests of football player Colin Kaepernick. She infamously criticized the San Francisco 49ers players’ kneeling as “dumb” and “disrespectful,” even considering the protests comparable to burning the American flag. Although she did not consider it an arrestable offense, she considered kneeling during the National Anthem a “terrible thing to do.” Ginsburg later apologized, saying that she would “be more circumspect,” but it’s unknown what drove her to the public apology.

Even with a less intersectional approach to feminism, Ginsburg’s record doesn’t get off scot-free. She disapproved of now-Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process and its highly politicized nature. The self-proclaimed “flaming feminist” was disheartened that “patriots on both sides of the aisle” had become so divisive over Kavanaugh. She compared Kavanaugh’s process in 2018 with hers in 1993. The vote on her nomination was 96-3; a stark contrast to Kavanaugh’s 50-48. She called the trial a “highly partisan show,” lamenting more on the political tension itself than the reason for the political tension. She continued support for Kavanaugh after he was sworn in, calling him “very decent and very smart.”

Ginsburg’s decision to not retire in 2014 is a point of controversy. Although she is applauded for her decades-long service to America, she has also been criticized for not retiring during the Obama administration.Had Ginsburg and the other old liberal judges on the bench, like Stephen Breyer or Anthony Kennedy, retired during Obama’s presidency, the Democratic Party could have locked up the most powerful governmental body for decades. An article in the New York Times alleges that Obama did (indirectly) ask Ginsburg to resign in 2013, long after her pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Ginsburg reportedly turned him down, believing that it was entirely her decision to retire, and leaving the chance to fill her seat to whoever won the presidency next..
This discussion brings a larger issue into light: the fragility of our democracy. Our country loves to boast about a balance of power and a steadfast democracy, but the death of one major figure has potentially jeopardized decades of progress in social justice. Rulings such as Roe v. Wade could be overturned, and the Supreme Court remains highly partisan.

When we think of one’s legacy, it should be a holistic overview of their highlights and flaws. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was undeniably a trailblazer for feminism and LGBT+ rights. But her being an idol to some should not override the fact she also made decisions that were detrimental to others. Ultimately, remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy should mean remembering her as she was: a complicated, flawed, and influential individual.