Stop Blaming Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Ghost Whenever Roe V. Wade’s On Chopping Block
Today, while the Supreme Court decides whether to end reproductive freedom in America, Dave Weigel thought it was cool to tweet this zinger:
See, Donald Trump — a twice-impeached, one-term president who never won the popular vote — managed to install three Federalist Society centerfolds on the Supreme Court and now they might overturn Roe v. Wade. This is somehow the dead lady’s fault.
It just seems incredibly tacky and even downright cruel to mock a woman who’s at risk of losing her bodily autonomy. I’m a man, so I know we’re psychologically driven to insist how right we are at all times. Still, couldn’t Weigel give it a rest for a few days? Guess not.
I actually read more than the headline to Emily Bazelon’s 2013 Slate article “Stop Telling Ruth Bader Ginsburg To Retire.” Bazelon acknowledged the concerns people had about Ginsburg not retiring during Barack Obama’s second term, which she presented as a big moral question: “Don’t Ginsburg and Breyer recognize that by staying on and courting the possibility that they will be replaced by Chris Christie or Marco Rubio rather than Hillary Clinton, they are rolling a giant pair of dice?” (Yes, this was 2013 when people thought Christie or Rubio could actually win the GOP presidential nomination.)
Bazelon even said: "This is an obvious and perfectly sensible way to think about the court. I’m a pragmatist, so I’m drawn to it too.” She also quotes Yale Law School fellow and former New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse, who presents this worst-case scenario:
A conservative Republican wins the White House in 2016, and Ginsburg and Breyer announce their retirements the following year. The Republicans also control the Senate. They kill the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments and confirm nominees who see Justice Antonin Scalia as their hero. The court lurches to the right.
Wow, what actually happened was somehow even worse.
And then? Would We the People rise up and elect a Democratic president, who would then get to make his own slew of appointments? Would the left finally take the courts as seriously as the right has long known to? And if not, could we lay the blame on Ginsburg and Breyer—or would we all share in it?
No, it looks as if men are going to blame Ginsburg. This includes Weigel who, like Chuck Todd, believed Trump won the first debate against Hillary Clinton because she was “too prepped.”
The point of Bazelon’s article was that it was counter-productive to keep asking Ginsburg to retire. As Greenhouse pointed out, the more Democrats pressured Ginsburg to retire, the "more political and instrumental her retirement would seem.” This would also directly impact Obama’s choice to replace her, which we should discuss.
Responding to Weigel’s tweet, NBC News political reporter Sahil Kapur said: "Ginsburg turned 80 in 2013 and had already battled cancer. Obama was president and Democrats controlled 55 seats in the Senate."
These are all factual statements, but they’re presented without vital context. Obama’s two successful Supreme Court picks — Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — were both confirmed before the 2010 Tea Party shellacking. The 2013 Senate now contained a Marco Rubio and a Ted Cruz. You’ll recall how Cruz shut down the government in a failed attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act and launch his presidential campaign. It’s not unreasonable to imagine him filibustering Obama’s Ginsburg replacement for any number of obnoxious reasons. It’s also unlikely that five Republican senators would’ve helped break a filibuster so Obama could replace Ginsburg with someone just as liberal but decades younger. The GOP would’ve demanded (at best) a consensus pick like Merrick Garland. Democrats facing tough elections in Alaskas, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, and Louisiana might’ve not-so-quietly made the same request.
It was never as simple as discarding Ginsburg because she was old and replacing her with a newer model. This wasn't the First Wives Club. Stephen Breyer is a different case because a Democrat hasn’t filled a Supreme Court vacancy in almost 12 years. Folks were trying to bum rush Ginsburg off the Court barely three years after Kagan’s confirmation. That’s just tacky.
America is fortunate that we had seven more years of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Period. You were instructed to make her name a blessing, not a means of scoring cheap points.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."