Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

19 September 2020

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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A Giant Among Men

She was small in stature. She died shrunken by age and the ravages of the most terrible of cancers.

But in her impact she was a giant—a steadfast warrior for justice. Among all the men and women who ever served on our High Court, she was one of the handful whose legacy matched her title—“Justice.” She was one of the best of the best.

She forged a compass for women, showing the way to influence and power. Her most famous judicial sentence was this: “The gender line [of discrimination] helps to keep women not on a pedestal but in a cage.” With that simple truth, she goaded us Americans to make better use of the wisdom and talent of half of our species.

Respect for women was hardly her sole obsession. Justice Ginsburg fought relentlessly for the individual over corporate and monetary interests, for the family over exigency, for minorities over institutionalized oppression and false assumptions of inadequacy, for people over the kind of facile “pragmatism” and “efficiency” that maims and kills.

She was a humanist in every sense of that word. She valued people over pitiless and often cruel abstractions. She knew what’s real and what matters in human life.

As we survey the wreckage that male pride has wrought in our time, we cannot help but mourn Justice Ginsburg’s passing with sobs of loss. She will be missed.

But she leaves behind a rich legacy. There are her many opinions—some for the majority, some in dissent. There are her books and the films about her, including “The Notorious RBG.” There are the precedents that she established and influenced, which will roll down the centuries as American common law. Most of all, there are living women in our judiciary, our Congress and our executive branch, whom she inspired and for whom she cleared roadblocks.

Justice Ginsburg could not hold out until the hoped-for end of our would-be tyrant’s term. She died tragically on the eve of Jewish New Year 5781.

But as long as our species survives, her memory will survive, too. It will remind us of the human values that jurists should promote. It will remind us that her gender offers special insight into what makes us human and how to build a thriving and just society. Her name will still stand for justice, equality and humanity when the dismal succession of male tyrants and ideologues becomes a footnote to history, and our enhanced empathy and cooperation take us to the stars.

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