Goodbye Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In her years on the bench, she has become more than icon, she is the very picture of feminism. The trademark dark hair with dark glasses, and wispy voice...- PARVEEN KAUR HARNAM

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Photo: The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
By Parveen Kaur Harnam | OPINION |

Today we all learnt that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed. A lot of us will be iterating words of mourning. It is a sombre development, for the legal fraternity and for the world at large.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a “titan in law” is how the US President’s statement is worded. She was that and much more. Ginsburg was a legal luminary, writing iconic decisions such as the United States v Virginia case, where she wrote for the majority striking down on the Virginia Military Institute’s traditional male-only admissions policy, which could be argued as her strongest decision, where the learned judge effectively argued for women’s equal access to education. Or maybe it was the 1999 Olmstead v L.C decision, where she spoke for Americans with mental disabilities, where she deliberated that states under the Americans for Disabilities Act “are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate,…”

These are only two of the decisions in her oeuvre of decisions which changed the legal landscape in the US, and indirectly (and directly) shaped the scene for the 27 years that she served on the nation’s highest court. One might think that her legacy only started during her tenure as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but in fact it started well before that.

Before she was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she was Joan Ruth Bader, who fought against gender discrimination and united the liberal block of court. One could argue that at the age of 87 she had done all that could, contributed to her best. However, the late Justice had intentions of sitting on the bench at least until 90. Not too far off we could say, not too far off at all. In her years on the bench, she has become more than icon, she is the very picture of feminism. The trademark dark hair with dark glasses, and wispy voice which has among other things, even criticized the Roe v Wade decision and Trump (for which she had to apologize, but with such grace and mighty there was no doubting that Justice RBG will be in the history books for eons to come).

In private, the late Justice was all the more fascinating and admirable. Another legal luminary, but who faced far more condemnation and criticism on account of his textualist approach to the US Constitution as well as the fact that he was at the root of it – a conservative judge, the late Justice Antonin Scalia was her closest friend (and to a degree closest ally). This was a one-of-a-kind dynamic, a conservative judge and a liberal judge who come from such different schools of thought, with such different approaches in giving out decisions were friends and allies? Yes, they were. They’re dynamic was so well-known that there’s even a comedic opera about them: ‘Scalia v Ginsburg’ which premiered back in 2015, a year before we lost Justice Scalia.

In this day and age, can a dynamic like that exist again? The string between liberals and conservatives has widened to such extent that the string is no longer a string, it has become so frayed that we now wonder how could the late Justice Scalia and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ever see ‘eye to eye’? Well, they could because both of them had something different to bring to the table. Admittedly, Justice Scalia had a bit of a dark shadow looming over his legacy (him being anti-abortion being one of them), there was also decisions that he delivered such as Crawford v Washington where he wrote for the majority that testimonial witnesses who are not available to speak in court, cannot be used as evidence in court unless the defendant’s lawyer had an opportunity prior to the trial to cross examine that person. An iconic decision, wouldn’t you say?

Now, both legal minds have gone to ashes, and with no one to speak of that replaces them. So much of the conversation has already turned political: ‘now that Justice Ginsburg is gone, let’s hope that this is not the very ammunition that Trump needed to cement his legacy’. That seems to be the line of conversation, we’ve not even had the time to mourn the loss that is losing two legal minds in such a short span.

We haven’t even had the time to appreciate the decisions that the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered, to appreciate the woman who returned to the bench merely two months after surgery for lung cancer. Let’s do that first because from dust we all come and to dust we shall all return. While we’re at it, maybe we can ruminate the possibility of being friends with those who have a completely different political belief? Maybe that’s a big ask.

Parveen Kaur Harnam is a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer. 

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



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