Ruth Bader Ginsburg – a sad and frightening day

It’s not usually a good idea to check your phone when you wake up at 4:50 am.

When I did early this morning, I saw a stream of notifications screaming variations of “Yikes.”

I can’t remember a death that’s caused as much fear as well as sadness as that of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

At 87, she was still working, pushing herself on as long as she could, knowing that if she weren’t there it gave Donald Trump the ability to replace her with someone who would tip the balance of the Supreme Court and which could lead to a bonfire of the rights one over decades that had until recently considered safe. It can’t be fun to be female or part of a marginalised group in the US now.

I feel scared and I’m not even American.

RBG was a role model for many a young law student and for women across the globe. In her 27 years on the Supreme Court, she broke down barriers for women. Not only that, but she recognised the barriers being put up to prevent minorities voting.

Liberal Democrats have been paying tribute to her on social media:

 

In February 2016, 269 days before the Presidential Election, Justice Antonin Scalia died. Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to take his place, but Senate Republicans refused to vote on his nomination, citing the election as an excuse.

So, of course, they will take the same attitude when a vacancy occurs a mere 46 days before the election? Not a bit of it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that they will vote to confirm whoever President Trump nominates. So much for consistency.

The sheer brazenness of politicians when they are openly doing the wrong thing these days is very worrying. Those on the right seem to have left their consciences behind and they get away with it. And then they move the focus on to something even more egregious.

We need to remember that it’s not actually that long since there were decent people holding office and there are plenty decent people waiting to take the place of the horror show that makes up the governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

It’s just four years since Obama was seeing out his last few months in the White House, although it feels like forever ago.

His tribute to RBG was beautiful.

Over a long career on both sides of the bench — as a relentless litigator and an incisive jurist — Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn’t only harm women; that it has real consequences for all of us. It’s about who we are — and who we can be.

Justice Ginsburg inspired the generations who followed her, from the tiniest trick-or-treaters to law students burning the midnight oil to the most powerful leaders in the land

>

And he was very clear about the process to replace her.

A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment. The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle. As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican Senators are now called to apply that standard. The questions before the Court now and in the coming years — with decisions that will determine whether or not our economy is fair, our society is just, women are treated equally, our planet survives, and our democracy endures — are too consequential to future generations for courts to be filled through anything less than an unimpeachable process.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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31 Comments

  • Sad news. The course of American history and indirectly the history of the world has been changed by progressive decisions by the US Supreme Court. It is frightening to think what decisions a court full of right-wing Conservatives would take.

  • richard underhill.,. 19th Sep '20 - 1:39pm

    Caron Lindsay | Sat 19th September 2020 – 9:28 am
    I used to have a subscription to Time Magazine which had made an offer for a low price for as many weeks as I wanted. I chose 156 weeks (3 years).
    I remember a cartoon about Supreme Court decisions on racial justice, such as voting rights, over several years.
    “Brown Supreme Court decision On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren issued the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.”
    This was followed by a long list of decisions by the US Supreme Court which were all in the same direction and which had not been implemented.
    I am not complacent, I am angry, but I fear that the sceptics who commented above are correct. Four years ago Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to gain votes by saying that the Supreme Court was at issue. There were several issues which the then majority wanted to change, including Roe versus Wade, which is about abortion.
    In the UK a young Liberal MP who had won a bye-election in Scotland, with the support of Jo Grimond, tried his luck at a lottery for parliamentary time with the support of Home Secretary Roy Jenkins (then Labour). He accepted advice to bypass Northern Ireland MPs and became famous as forecast.
    https://www.bing.com/search?q=abortion+referendum+ireland&form=WNSGPH&qs=AS&cvid=2ff19ae61c1d401bb663ba67bb21cbc3&pq=abortion+referendum+ireland&cc=GB&setlang=en-GB&PC=HCTS&nclid=D685F8B2DD8A22605D669A1545EF5F42&ts=1600519080365&wsso=Moderate

  • Renata Jackson 19th Sep '20 - 2:31pm

    The statement that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing is never truer than when British people talk about US society and politics. There are many things to admire about RBG but these sorts of hagiographic pieces are simplistic and unhelpful.

    There are many things to admire about RBG (also, many things to admire about her deceased husband Marty who supported her career for so many years starting at a time when that was almost exceptional). However, a number of her comments over the years have indicated that she was not exactly an ally for those looking for justice for the black community. Two examples:

    In 2016, following Colin Kaepernick starting to kneel during the US national anthem to protest continuing racial inequality in the US, Katie Couric asked RBG what she thought about the athletes choosing to kneel. Ginsburg’s answer: “I think it’s dumb and disrespectful.” She emphasized that of course such actions should be protected by law — as they are — but added that she didn’t agree with the protesters themselves. “If they want to be stupid, there’s no law that should be preventive,” Ginsburg said. “What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”

    In a July 2019 interview published in the New York Times Magazine, RBG said, in relation to the US Supreme Court judgment Roe vs Wade that struck down laws restricting abortion in the US: “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” RBG said this in the context of being surprised that the US Supreme Court, after Roe vs Wade, determined that there was no right to receive state funding for abortion with the consequence that abortion was more available to the better off than poorer communities. “populations that we don’t want to have too many of” was clearly a reference to poorer communities which, in the US of the 1970s and 80s, were mostly comprised of black people.

    As I said, many things to admire, but it’s important to remember that RBG was very much a product of her time and her background.

    I do think Ed Davey might be better focused on the reality of daily life for the population in this country. I suspect that 98% of people in the UK would not know who RBG was.

  • richard underhill.,. 19th Sep '20 - 3:28pm

    Americans sometimes say “Don’t get angry, get even.”
    A response to what Mitch McConnell is doing would be to win a Senate seat in Kentucky, but although Kentucky was won twice by southern Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, Donald Trump easily carried Kentucky with 62.54% of the vote, to 32.69% of the vote for Hillary Clinton, a margin of 29.85%.

  • richard underhill.,. 19th Sep '20 - 3:43pm

    19th Sep ’20 – 2:31pm
    Recent tv about the Equal Rights Amendment shown in the UK show a constitutional amendment supported by the then President (Carter) being defeated. The leading Republican campaigner wanted a post in the Cabinet. She got a telephone call from President Reagan and went back to preparing vegetables for dinner.

  • richard underhill.,. 19th Sep '20 - 3:57pm

    19th Sep ’20 – 3:43pm
    Women in combat roles in the military during the Vietnam war was not a vote winner.

  • richard underhill.,. 19th Sep '20 - 4:08pm

    Please also see Senator Warren’s speech to the Democratic conference 2016.
    There is a long list of things she wants, including equal pay, long overdue.

  • jayne Mansfield 19th Sep '20 - 5:32pm

    @ Renata Jackson,
    I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph, which is why I am not a Liberal Democrat.

    Ed Davey is new to the job., so one should give him some slack. However, If things don’t change, one has to ask why the Liberal Democrat Party chooses not to make the daily life of the population in this country its focus. In particular ‘the lived reality of the poor’ often working poor.

    There are some notable, and in my view, honourable exceptions on here, but they are as rare as hen’s teeth.

  • @ Jayne Mansfield & Renata Jackson “I do think Ed Davey might be better focused on the reality of daily life for the population in this country. I suspect that 98% of people in the UK would not know who RBG was”.

    Yes, I do agree.

    And yes, cut him some slack by all means, but it’s twelve months ago today that I gave Sir Edward a copy of the Alston UN Report on Poverty and Inequality in the UK. He was honest enough to admit that he hadn’t read it at the time, which is sad because it is a seminal document. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to hear any response from him…… or from any other Lib Dem M.P. on the report

    Some might say it was time to wake up and smell the coffee………………… ?? It’s getting worse and more critical by the day.

  • jaye mansfield 19th Sep '20 - 7:18pm

    @ David Raw
    As someone who would no longer vote for your party than fly to the moon,I trying hard to be kind because it has members like yourself and Katharine.

  • richard underhill.,. 19th Sep '20 - 8:54pm

    RBG is being interviewed NOW on BBC News.
    She has been awarded a prize and cannot accept the money, which she is giving to charities.
    She was nominated by President Clinton and voted on 96-3.
    She starts her argument by arguing that laws on divorce in the USA discriminate against poor women because women with resources can always get what they want and the same applies to abortion.

  • richard underhill.,. 19th Sep '20 - 8:55pm

    She says she is 87.

  • richard underhill.,. 19th Sep '20 - 8:57pm

    She says the President is NOT A TRAINED LAWYER.

  • @ Jayne. Thank you, Jayne. The coffee has long been cold.

    @ Richard Underhill “RBG is being interviewed NOW on BBC News.”

    That must be a first. As BoJo might say…. ‘World and Heaven beating’.

  • The Political Betting site claim that Trump has abandoned the idea of finding a replacement for Ginsburg before the Election, however no-one else is reporting that.
    Lets hope they are right.

  • Steve Trevethan 20th Sep '20 - 8:45am

    If, as we are led to believe, our leadership is deeply concerned for good legal practice and justice, might our party taken an active and visible interest in our legal system?

    The current politically purposed trial of Julian Assange is a perversion of good legal practice and of justice.

    It endangers genuine investigative journalism, demonstrates that our media and major political parties no longer speak the truth to the powerful and has rendered an individual likely to suffer a life-time of effective torture.
    https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/

  • Steve Trevethan 20th Sep '20 - 12:52pm

    Here is a relevant and disturbing article on replacing Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
    https://www.moonofalabama.org/

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Sep '20 - 2:00pm

    It should be said this Justice was just. Bader Ginsburg was a mainstream judge, good at getting on with others, her liberalism was not progressivism, it was flexibile. Her closest friend or colleague as a serving Justice was a conservative, yes, Scalia.

    We ought to not play party or philosophical based politics with justice. The left, right are as bad on this in the US , even here . Abortion has now got out of hand from left and right. It is a conscience issue. If a human rights one, some of us think a viable foetus has rights also.

  • Suggest we worry about our severe party predicament and not interfere with others internal problems. If I recall last Republican nomination to the Court voted on centrist lines!

  • richard underhill.,. 20th Sep '20 - 7:41pm

    .David Raw
    Modern technology is amazing.
    She wanted to live long enough to survive the US general election.

    The pessimists are wrong. There is a mechanism, a constitutional amendment.
    Biden Harris could try to enlarge the Supreme Court, adding one or two more justices.
    They could still be lifers, but choose them as young as possible, as we do with life peers.

  • nvelope2003 20th Sep '20 - 9:00pm

    why would people who are not Liberal Democrats vote for them and are there any left?

  • Interesting that people outside the US are so keen on the tendency of Judges to read in to the US constitution aspects that are not there in order to invent rights.

    I see the initial attraction, particularly from those who think they have a technocratic mindset, in being able to impose legal change bypassing the democratic process. In the long term though it has destabilised the US system, it has taken the responsibility off politicians to make their system function by creating the laws that are required. In the 1960’s when the civil rights act was required, it was properly debated and passed.

    Roe v Wade (as Ginsberg herself pointed out) was a nonsensical ruling (she had a far better idea for how the judicial activism should be structured, if you like judicial activism). However, in reality political capital stopped being diverted in to changing minds at state level and winning people over and instead put massive amounts of pressure on getting supreme court judges with political opinions (or judicial philosophies which work to advantage certain political opinions) on the SC.

    If there was less judicial activism in the US there would be a lot less concern following Ginsberg’s death.

    Perhaps the preference of many LibDems for the unelected getting in to a position to impose significant legal change on a country and not having to do so via making the case to the public in elections is the reasons the LibDems are regarded as they are in the population of the UK.

  • John Marriott 21st Sep '20 - 9:13am

    Yet another aspect of the US Constitution that baffles me. Why on Earth appoint somebody for LIFE in tge first place? I thought that only applied to kings and queens and a few unsavoury ‘Heads of State around the world.

    But who am I to tell the yanks how to run their affairs? As for the lady, who has just passed away, I have to confess that I am one of the 98% cited by Mesdames Mansfield and Jackson, who had never heard of her before!

  • FS People: Presumably the Liberal left like political changes to be made by judicial figures or bodies because otherwise they would never be made. With hindsight it was a mistake to allow all those former colonial administrators to return to Britain with their racist attitudes and desire to repress other people. They should have been told to stay where they were and be treated as they had treated others. We have to put up with their descendants who seem to have the same attitudes although they pretend otherwise. Some Liberal Democrats seem to want to be nicer Tories but people who dislike Tories want something completely different which would give ordinary people a better chance in life. A fair education system which would allow people with ability to get the jobs now reserved for those who went to public schools would be a start but sadly many Liberal Democrats do not want this to happen so no wonder they do not get many votes and are unlikely to do so until there is a change which itself seems unlikely. It is sad and depressing.

  • This is an opportune time to consider the role of The Supreme Court in American politics and whether we’d benefit from something similar. Their tripartite system of checks and balances seems an improvement on our own present system. Recent events means we can no longer trust national politicians to be trustworthy and act in the nation’s interests.

  • nvelope2003 21st Sep '20 - 2:42pm

    Peter Hirst. On what grounds do you consider the American system to be superior. The Republicans are busy trying to ensure Mr Trump can nominate another Supreme Court Judge before an election in just over 40 days time when they refused to allow Mr Obama to do that 10 months before an election. Our Supreme Court stopped a fraudulent dissolution of Parliament although not exactly analagous because Congress is only dissolved by the passage of time, though that did not stop Trump trying to delay the election. However Congress seems to have greater power than our puppet House of Commons which is bought and paid for by supporters of the Government and only the House of Lords seems to have any independence hence the hatred now felt for it by those who strove to preserve it when it was Tory dominated. The US Senate however is a bastion of the Right as it was designed to be because of its fraudulent system of election by reason of unequal representation in each State.

  • John Marriott 21st Sep '20 - 3:13pm

    In my opinion, the representative systems both here and across the pond are largely products of the 18th century and well past their sell by date. In many ways, with its Senate which is grossly unrepresentative of its various states, and its House of Representatives with delegates largely the products of gerrymandered districts and a Supreme Court, whose members, provided they keep their noses clean, staying members for as long as they wish and finally a President, who spends the second half of their first term campaigning to get re elected and, if successful, the second half of their second term virtually as a lame duck, is in greater need of reform than our own.

  • nvelope2003
    “Presumably the Liberal left like political changes to be made by judicial figures or bodies because otherwise they would never be made.”
    The issue is that this is the counter factual question. If these things were not done by judicial action would it force the political system to act. The action of the Supreme Court has allowed the legislative branch to behave in a very juvenile way and duck important questions.
    This then makes trying to pile pressure on moving the supreme court in the direction that people want creating lurches in policy. Many of the decisions that resulted from decisions would have been met with the political process. An example is how childish the debate over abortion in the US is. Decisions that are often cited as being important such as Brown v Board of Education would have been dealt with via the political process if not by decision. Brown was 1955 but the 1957 Civil Rights Act was expanding protections proposed by a Republican President and a Democratic Congress, that would have picked it up had the court not ruled that way.

    Peter Hirst
    I’m not sure how the US system would be seen as better than the UK one. The consolidation of the UK constitution would make sense but too many people seem to have an overly rosy view of the way the system impacts politics there. There are better ways we could structure things in the UK but I don’t think a heavily political top court would help.

  • nvelope2003 21st Sep '20 - 4:22pm

    John Marriott, FSPeople – Yes I agree. As regards our Supreme Court the retired members
    such as Lord Sumption and former President Baroness Hale continue to make interesting contributions to public debate.

  • richard underhil 23rd Sep '20 - 5:04pm

    FSPeople 20th Sep ’20 – 10:19pm
    Do you remember the “hanging chads”?
    The Republicans went to the Supre me Court and chose George Bush (junior) as President.
    It may be that Donald Trump is waiting for a similar opportunity, something he can find fault with.
    Civilians carrying guns was also an issue in the Supreme Court and they voted in favour.
    On guns I am pro-life.

  • richard underhil

    Your comment is about exercise of pure power and not about the rule of law.

    That is the authoritarians way. The constitution recognises the right to bear arms.

    There are mechanisms for changing those elements of the legal framework via democratic means where the public has to be persuaded of the merits.

    Imposing a technocracy that simply ignores the law is not the route to that.

    You will notice that no effort was made to correct the failings in the US system by those who say they want change in the US. They are unwilling to make an argument and persuade their fellow citizens around, instead they want to impose their favoured people who will simply ignore the law as written and force their will on on others.

    If you don’t favour the rule of law or democracy that is fine but own it. There are many things in the UK and the US that I don’t like but I would not advocate ignoring law and democracy to achieve those ends.

    The rules of a game matter, life is not just about power.

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