The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: An Existential Threat to American Democracy

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Contributor JSTOR Daily

“I tell law students… if you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill — very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself… something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

~Ruth Bader Ginsburg

O n September 18, 2020, while on the phone with a close friend I happened to scroll on my facebook and noticed a post “Not Justice Ginsburg” I immediately scrolled down and like a gut punch I screamed “Oh No!” My friend, not knowing what happened, asked what happened. CNN had just posted on their FaceBook account that Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died from pancreatic cancer. My heart broke. Another American Hero and Icon lost in 2020. Moreover, a fighter for Women’s equality and one of the few progressive liberal judges on the U.S. Supreme Court. While emotionally processing what I just read, my friend on the phone casually stated, “So what? you didn’t know her personally.”

My mood immediately shifted from sadness and shock to annoyance and anger. Feeling the tone of my voice increasing. I explained that voting for Biden has become more important than ever. Even though he isn’t the candidate I wanted he is the best qualified person to be president. That’s when I realized that my friend, a White Man, never had to deal with sexism and racism a day in his life. He benefits from the status quo of institutional and systemic oppression and racism against women and people of color. Accordingly, he and most like him lack the capacity for empathizing with others who feel Justice Ginsburg’s death is a signal that the fabric of democracy is being threatened.

He continued to state that he wasn’t voting for either Trump or Biden. Now I can feel my blood pressure and anger rise to the boiling point and I called him out on his lack of sweat equity in the advance of civil rights. Specifically, I told him that he as a white man who’s never had the Supreme Court reverse or overturn a law to provide some semblance of equality. His ancestors were never deemed three fifths of a man, denied the right to vote, or resigned to segregated and unequal school systems. He lived with the privilege of going about his business without ever having to fear for his life by the police. He’s never had to work more or less. He’s benefited from the status quo that is denied to me and other minority groups of everything. Even though we have a difference in opinions regarding politics this was the first time I saw my friend as the opposition. He wasn’t an ally; rather, he was a neutral party benefiting from but not contributing to the oppression of minorities and women.

We spoke on the phone for about 45 minutes. He was quiet and listened to me explain that I no longer feel safe in this country. For the first time in my adult life I am utterly terrified for the safety and well being of my child’s life. The very core of civil rights and equality is threatened as Trump attempts to make America great by rolling back the clock. Explaining the fear and concerns I have felt like it had fallen on deaf ears. Soon I began to question my friendship. My friend wasn’t the only white male who didn’t understand the impact of her death. All across my social media White men were commenting similar sentiments. Many had the nerve to write Justice Ginsburg didn’t do anything for men. How woefully ignorant the statement was. Many people don’t realize if Trump appoints another Supreme Court Justice he will have appointed the most in recent U.S. History. Trump’s influence on the judiciary isn’t limited to the highest court in the land. The federal circuit courts are also leaning conservative as Trump violently executed the intent of far Right Watchdogs who endorsed his campaigns. While reproductive rights may be chipped away slowly in a way similar to the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, the clear and present threat of a conservative 6–3 majority on the Supreme Court impacts everything from campaign finance (ala Citizens United) to affirmative action (ala University of Michigan) and eventual legislation related to police oversight. With the executive and legislative branches in a d&ck measuring contest for influence and superiority in our political system, Americans have come to rely on the Supreme Court as the adults in the room. With RBG’s death and Trump’s dedication to place staunch conservatives on the bench, we run the risk of an ideological lens that will impact the Court’s ability to be an effective counterbalance for generations to come.

While it may be too late to stop Trump from naming Ginsburg’s replacement, it is not too late to rally voters across the country to get to the polls in order to fight the assault on civil rights and common decency. This is the least that we can do to honor the Notorious RBG’s legacy. May her memory be a blessing.

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May her memory continue to be blessed.

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