Let us put aside for the moment the bitter ongoing battle over whether or not to quickly fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
We all know how obstructionist the Republican-controlled Senate was when then-President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in March of 2016. That, of course, was another presidential election year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to even bring Garland’s nomination to a vote, saying at the time “Of course the American people should have a say in the court’s direction. It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on the president and withhold its consent.”
Fast forward to 2020 and the idea of the Senate acting as a check on the current president seems laughable. The Trump Party (the party formerly known as the GOP) seemingly bends to its leader’s every whim these days, thus the concept of giving voters a say in the direction of the highest court in the land seems to have been cast aside.
Hypocrisy? Sure. But it also is an example of the cutthroat nature of politics in the 21st century. Just a warning to those who find themselves holding all the high cards in this particular game, karma is not a nice lady.
Of course these are not normal times and this is not a normal president. Just the other day he indicated that he would not go quietly into the good night if he is defeated at the polls come November. He may need a stacked Supreme Court to contest what he is already characterizing as a “rigged election.”
But that is a discussion for another day. Let us instead celebrate the life of one Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a mighty mite who was a giant in the battle for women’s rights.
Do you have a daughter? What does she want to be? Doctor, lawyer, accountant, teacher, rocket scientist? Great, tell her to go for it, to latch onto that dream and ride it as far as she wants.
There was a time when a young woman who declared her dream of going into the law or medicine was greeted with a polite, sad smile and a slight shake of the head. Men were doctors and lawyers, after all. But she could become a secretary or a nurse.
There was a time in our country’s illustrious history when women were seen as little more than appendages of men, not fully fledged citizens of the newly minted United States.
There is a reason the Declaration of Independence does not say “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal.” Nope, it says all “Men,” and yes, the word Men is capitalized.
Eighteenth century America was a man’s world, and thus it remained for many years. Women lived a decidedly unequal existence for much of the first couple of centuries of our country’s history.
Oh, they were doing their share of the work, and much of the men’s share, too. They were birthing the babies, keeping the home fires burning and, oh by the way, helping to build the country we now call home.
But equal? Hardly They couldn’t even vote until just more than 100 years ago.
Occasionally strong and determined women broke out of the quicksand of inequality and forged their own path, but they were seen as oddballs and outliers.
Then along came Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Ruth Bader, at first, a Brooklyn girl who decided she wanted to be a lawyer.
She graduated from Cornell, then attended Harvard Law School before transferring to Columbia. During her time at Harvard the dean asked why Ginsberg and the eight other women in her class were taking up seats that could have been filled by men.
Ginsberg shared the top spot in her graduating class at Columbia, but she could not get a job because, as she said, she had three strikes against her. She was a woman. She was a mother. She was a Jew. So she became a law professor.
She spent much of her career fighting for women’s rights and gender equality. She successfully argued six landmark cases before the Supreme Court, all dealing with gender equity, one even favoring men. Social Security rules used to allow widows to collect special benefits for surviving minor children, but not widowers. Ginsburg argued in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld that the law as it was then written discriminated against men. But she also argued that women’s contributions to Social Security at the time were not treated equally to those of men, so there was discrimination on both sides.
Among her battles was the fight to protect Roe v. Wade, but she also fought for and won the right for a woman to sign a mortgage without a man, the right for a woman to have a bank account without a male co-signer, the right to have a job without being discriminated against based on gender and the right for women to be pregnant or have children and still maintain a job.
She battled for the right for women’s pensions to be equal to those of males and the right for a woman to put her husband on her health insurance if her employer also covered co-workers’ wives.
Oh, and women can get loans for cars and other purchases now without the co-signature of a man thanks to RBG.
And she didn’t forget men in the equation, either. Besides her Social Security argument, she also fought for the Family Medical Leave Act that allows both women and men to take time off after the birth of a child.
She was a little lady with a huge impact. It is a shame her legacy is being drowned out by all the noise over who will replace her, and when.
It doesn’t do the Justice justice.