A young woman I know, a middle-schooler, has named her new kitten after Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
She learned about Ginsburg when she read a children’s book about her: I Dissent (more on that later). The girl became a fan, and now the cat is named “Ruthie.” I can’t think of a greater honor.
It’s always good to be recognized by peers, colleagues and the people who pass out awards.
In 2002, Ginsburg was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2009, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Scribes: The American Society of Legal Writers.
In 2019, she was awarded the $1 million Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture. She received honorary doctor of laws degrees from universities, including Princeton, Harvard and Yale.
Of course, being named a Supreme Court Associate Justice in 1993 is in a class by itself. The vote in the Senate was 96-3.
In a video tribute on Thursday, just the day before she died, the National Constitution Center awarded Justice Ginsburg the Liberty Medal, a recognition that “honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe.”
Previous justices to receive the award were Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor and Thurgood Marshall – nominated to the high court by presidents of both political parties.
In my humble and unlettered opinion, however, to be a role model for a teenage girl, and to have helped open doors for that girl to aspire to become whoever and whatever she chooses, is worth all the other awards put together.
Ginsburg was a champion for women’s rights.
The landmark Reed v. Reed case she argued before the Supreme Court in 1971 extended the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to include women. In a documentary years later, she was reported to have said, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Partisanship is not at stake here. Indeed, a 96-3 confirmation vote in the Senate is testimony to consensus over partisanship.
Beyond any particular issues, I want to lift up two aspects of RBG’s judicial career that are more general in nature: civility and dissent.
In her 2016 book, My Own Words, Ginsburg wrote, “When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
Yet she was well known for her dissents, which earned her both criticism and admiration. She even had a special jabot, the lace collar topping her judicial robe, which she wore when issuing a dissent.
In a 2002 interview with National Public Radio, she said that some of her favorite opinions were the dissenting ones: “Dissents speak to a future age … The greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”
How can both dissenting opinions and civil behavior live within the same person?
We don’t see much of that these days. Hyper-partisanship, mocking and name-calling have become the order of the day. Political opponents are not just opponents, they’re enemies.
Yet, Ginsburg’s closest colleague on the Supreme Court was Justice Antonin Scalia, whose views on just about every issue were the polar opposite of hers. Several news sources have reported the two often had dinner and even attended the opera together.
We’ve seen that before.
An article by Jim Morrill in last Tuesday’s News & Observer carried the headline, “Joe Biden, Jesse Helms and an unlikely friendship that’s hard to imagine today.”
Two senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum, yet Jesse Helms’ former chief of staff, Jimmy Broughton, said his boss and Joe Biden “genuinely cared about each other.”
I remember that when Lyndon Johnson was majority leader of the Senate, he and minority leader Everett Dirksen not only collaborated on legislation; they were good friends.
Like Ginsburg and Scalia, they socialized together, and they even said nice things about each other in public. Imagine that!
After Johnson became president, both their friendship and their working relationship continued to the benefit of the country. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came on their watch.
Perhaps one key lies in realizing that none of us is pure.
King David of Israel was an adulterer with Bathsheba. He was a murderer of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite. He was the head of a dysfunctional family with a son, Absalom, who hatched a rebellion and tried to steal his father’s throne.
And yet, David’s prayers and songs, like “The Lord is my shepherd,” inspire us today, and the Bible famously calls him “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
God seems to understand that nobody’s perfect, to be able to love people whose behavior and opinions are sometimes not directly aligned with God’s own.
I, for one, am glad of it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t stand a chance. Shouldn’t I extend the same courtesy to others?
Civil dissent: It may be out of fashion in the corridors of power these days, but it’s not a new thing.
“Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
Or as Justice Ginsburg wrote, “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek, North Carolina. He lives with Laila the pit bull and enjoys riding a motorcycle and playing the guitar.