In the closing months of President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, political pundits began legitimately asking whether or not Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg ought to retire. Following this logic, the heavily left-leaning justice could be replaced by a heavily left-leaning president.
Well into her eighties, having served decades of public service on the highest court and undergone several bouts of chemotherapy, a feted retirement would have been a ride into the sunset. Moreover, she could have guaranteed that the chosen successor be in the mold of her identity-politicking judicial activism.
So what stopped her from making the politically savvy move? In a word: Hillary.
No one trapped in the elitist bubble of latte liberals, media pundits, and New York Times subscribers had read the tea leaves closely enough. That, in combination with their massive egos and hubris nonpareil, obfuscated the shifting tides from reaching their beachfront mansion. Hillary was about to run away with the Electoral College; as Reagan had turned the states red, she would make them blue. Or so they thought.
Another reason later surfaced, too. In a 2019 interview with NPR, Justice Ginsberg was asked to reflect on her choice of hanging around the Beltway. “Who do you think that the President could nominate that could get through the Republican Senate? ‘Who you would prefer on the court [rather] than me?” A fair point on its face, and so the decision was made to remain.
Given two reasonable premises, one could hardly blame Ginsberg for holding out. Between a presumptive Hillary in the near future and a compromised Senate pick in the present, she was betting with a strong hand.
Of course, it was a busted straight from the beginning. The first shortcoming in this political contrivance was her ability to practice the art of Divination about as well as Professor Trelawney. Indubitably blinded by self-reassurance, no amount of underground rumblings was going to convince her of anything except complete and total polling victory. Compilation videos like these can still make the rainiest of days produce sunshine.
The second mistake was that her interpretation of a “left-enough” judge was completely off base. In Obama’s futile attempt to place a justice in Antonin Scalia’s stead, he nominated Merrick Garland. Garland was no amenable compromise. Indeed, even though the media attempted to portray him as a centrist, a report from National Review compared headlines to practices and found a different story. They contend he was anything but a centrist, quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial that said “We can’t think of a single issue that has divided the Court on which Mr. Garland would reliably vote differently from the four liberal Justices already on the bench.” So much for being in the middle.
To Ginsberg, therefore, emerges from a colloquial need to describe a person’s futile efforts to prolong their status quo despite strong evidence pointing to unavoidable detriment. Athletics often provide a prime example of Ginsberging, such as the ill-fated comebacks of former legends struggling to walk away from the game they love. Men and women alike can also relate to the Ginsberg Effect, such as being in a moribund relationship and hanging on for various reasons in the face of impending heartbreak and pain.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a strong, dedicated, and passionate woman. She was a mother, spouse, and grandparent. These are wonderful descriptors. We would all be so lucky to lead a life full of both personal and professional success and garner an international following full of influence the way she had. Her biography is surely impressive.
That being said, a couple of significant contradictions emerge when reflecting on her judicial legacy. First, she always participated from a position that women were marginalized and never fully able to engage in American life. It is difficult to reconcile her portrayal of American society when she proclaimed this message from the bench of the highest court in the country (perhaps the world), where at any given time just nine justices preside over the most monumental decisions in the country. While she sat on the bench, there were over 170 million men not in that position.
Second, President Trump announced he would likely choose a female successor for her seat. No doubt that a female justice chosen by Trump would not go over well with the irascible RBG, and that’s the greater point. Ginsberg never advocated for women’s issues; she advocated for leftist issues. Her family and friends will miss her; it is hard to see how the Constitution will feel the same way.