Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020
Although I claim her as “my kind of feminist,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg defied all common political labels, as only a person of authentic integrity could. She argued for and won recognition of gender equality as a fundamental principle of US law. She warned against the prematurity of a federal guarantee of abortion rights while the issue was still at play in so many states. In both cases, I believe she was right, ethically principled and strategically prescient, qualities peace education seeks to cultivate. She epitomized the peace education process of reasoned reflection and the feminist principle of inclusivity.
She epitomized the peace education process of reasoned reflection and the feminist principle of inclusivity.
At the time of her appointment to the US Supreme Court, many self-identified liberals feared she would be “moderate.” She came to be perceived as “liberal,” even “left.” In my view, RBG was none of these. She was “her own woman” who looked to the fundamental human rights of all men and women as a guiding principle of her legal scholarship and judicial opinions. Pursuing her “calling” to the law in a framework of principle and reason, Justice Ginsburg is as iconographic to peace education as she is to law. For these and other such qualities she is my kind of feminist.
Pursuing her “calling” to the law in a framework of principle and reason, Justice Ginsburg is as iconographic to peace education as she is to law. For these and other such qualities she is my kind of feminist.
Contemporary feminism is “inclusive feminism,” rooted in the principle of universal human dignity, the equal human value of all human beings of every identity and origin, and in recognition of the interrelationships among the various obstacles to its realization. Principles of human dignity and equality ring throughout her opinions, be they writing for the majority, or more often, the brilliant dissenting opinions which teach us that informed, reflectively reasoned dissent is the bulwark of democracy. Her dissents serve to “keep hope alive.” Adherence to the principle of human equality, the will to keep hope alive and an effort to honor her last wishes now fuel a rapidly emerging resistance to replacing her on the Court before the inauguration of the next administration.
Her lived commitment to the practical realization of fundamental fairness brought crowds to the steps of the Court, shortly after the announcement of her death. The crowds, who may know little of jurisprudence, paid tribute to RBG because they understand and value the principles that she stood for. They gathered in the hope that the fairness, reason and inclusion she championed might guide interpretation of the laws of the United States, rather than ideologies of right or left. She may have been perceived as “liberal” because of her commitment to fairness, and “left” because she understood the need for profound change to achieve it, but she was committed to law as an instrument of justice, not politics, though clearly and acutely aware of political consequences. The rush to replace her is supported by a politics that includes opposition to reproductive rights, the very possibility she had foreseen. Foresight of consequences is another of her capacities that peace education strives to cultivate, as inclusive feminism strives toward consideration of the interrelationships among obstacles to human equality that is evident in her work.
Foresight of consequences is another of her capacities that peace education strives to cultivate, as inclusive feminism strives toward consideration of the interrelationships among obstacles to human equality that is evident in her work.
The mourners on the Court steps gathered also in tribute to her bravery such as that which has sustained generations of feminist struggles for equality. Her courage in the face of personal and health challenges – transcending the latter with strength of character evident in her fierce commitment to justice – places her among our revered feminist foremothers who braved jail and physical abuse to claim their rights as citizens. She endured years of rigorous, selfless struggle so she could continue to face down current challenges to those rights.
Justice Ginsburg understood the interrelationships among rights, recognizing the intersection of racial and gender equality, decades before the concept was put forth among feminist scholars and activists. Her early arguments for women’s equality applied principles the civil rights movement had previously brought to the Court and public discourse, anticipating the current convergence of the movements for racial and gender justice. Her reasoning, her legal achievements, have made possible much of the action now pursued by inclusive feminism.
RBG is my kind of feminist because her principled opinions were meant to affect actual lives and real social conditions, to increase the possibilities of fairness through guidelines that could be brought to the daily life of institutions and communities, realms that are the center of feminist action for gender equity and equality, essential to the realization of the equal value of all human lives; in short the goals of feminist peace education.
Feminist peace educators might well invoke the heuristic device of “WWRBGD,” the Rev. Chloe Breyer’s adaptation of the Christian Evangelical invocation to make ethical decisions according to what Jesus would do. Feminists find RBG to be a practical guide to the process of ethical reflection. All could find in her thinking a view that transcends the ideological polarities that divide the United States and many other countries around the world.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg made “justice” a verb. A woman of the law, she personified a professional calling as a realm of action toward the kind of society that pursues justice as the foundation of the social order, much as we perceive our calling to education. Her life and work is an energizing inspiration to all feminist peace educators. May she rest in power. Borrowing the words of Psalm 145:7, may we “publish the remembrance of [her] great goodness… sing of [her] righteous deeds.”
– BAR, Sept 20, 2020