Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020. Generally regarded as a bada—, Ginsburg spent her life tirelessly fighting for justice; as a litigator arguing for gender equality, as a law professor, as a judge on the US Circuit of Appeals and finally as a Supreme Court Justice.
As a lawyer working with the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginsburg went to the Supreme Court to fight for equal treatment under the law for all people regardless of gender. She was responsible for ensuring that all military spouses receive the same benefits as dependents in Frontiero v. Richardson (1973), for ensuring that all trials by jury had equitable gender representation in the jury pool in Duren v. Missouri (1977) and for ensuring that all people whose spouses passed away received the same benefits in Kahn v. Shevin (1974).
As a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg voted tirelessly to ensure that all people received their constitutional rights. From LGBTQIA+ equality to protections against cruel and unusual punishment, from healthcare access to the right to privacy, Ginsburg consistently voted to protect the liberty of the American people.
In the last 10 years of her life, Ginsburg gained an immense fanbase. Movies like On the Basis of Sex (2018) and books like The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong… and You Can Too! by Bryant Johnson have inspired a never-ending abundance of memes, tattoos, fanart and merchandise. In addition to pursuing rights for all Americans, Justice Ginsburg pioneered a new place the Supreme Court plays in our lives: pop culture.
“It’s dumb and disrespectful,” Ginsburg said, regarding Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and the criminal injustice system. In a 2016 interview with Katie Couric, she elaborated on that statement, saying “If they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive. If they want to be arrogant, there’s no law that prevents them from that. What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”
Personally, I don’t understand how one could take issue with the idea that institutions that market themselves as ‘protecting and serving’ should actually protect and serve their citizens, but I’m no Supreme Court Justice and, frankly, I don’t understand a lot of things. I don’t understand City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York (2005) where the Supreme Court ruled that land repurchase of traditional tribal lands 200 years later did not restore tribal sovereignty. I don’t understand Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam (2020) where the Supreme Court ruled to limit the ability of asylum seekers to petition the justice system. But what I really don’t understand is how Ginsburg ruled with the majority in every single one of those cases.
I also don’t understand how in the 27 years she served on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg managed to only hire one Black law clerk (Judge Paul J. Watford) among the hundreds of white clerks and tens of AAPI clerks (while hiring 0 Latinx and Native American clerks).
So how should we remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Can she be the woman who spent her whole life fighting for justice and also be the woman who created more injustice in our world?
Ginsburg apologized for the comments she made about Colin Kaepernick. When she was asked about his protest, she said she was “barely aware of the incident or its purpose” and was “inappropriately dismissive and harsh.” She made a mistake and did what she could to atone for her actions. In McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020), she ruled to honor the treaty the US government signed with the Creek people to uphold tribal sovereignty. She showed that she made a mistake in 2005 and did what she could to atone for her actions.
Should we cancel Ginsberg for the harm she has caused to so many different communities? What if instead of canceling her, we held her accountable? What if instead of cancelling her, we erased the shroud of glamour surrounding her, and revealed who she really was: a fallible human being just like the rest of us?