“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”
- US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The recent passing of Justice Bader Ginsburg, a.k.a. The Notorious RBG, as she was lovingly referred to by her many admirers, has brought to light another example of where our great neighbour to the south has been in the past, and unfortunately, where it is headed in the near future.
Justice Bader Ginsburg was only the second woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, in 1993 by President Clinton. She rose to be become one of the great judges of the Court, an icon not just for women and liberals, but for all who admire grace, wisdom and a beautiful spirit in our leaders.
As she famously said, “fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
One of her best friends was her colleague Antonin Scalia, another Justice of the Supreme Court, who passed in 2016. Despite both being born in the 1930’s, both from New York, both opera lovers, and both considered “establishment outsiders”, in many ways they could not have been more different.
He was a large Italian American Catholic conservative male. She was a tiny Jewish American liberal female. Their interpretation of the US Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court were strikingly in contrast. Their important decisions and dissents over the past decades have shaped the American legal landscape.
And yet, they and their spouses were best of friends over the years, spending many New Year’s Eves and holidays together. As Justice Scalia humorously noted about his long time friend and colleague, “What’s not to like? Except her views on the law.”
When they were pictured together atop an elephant on a trip together to India, Bader Ginsburg was asked why Scalia was positioned in the front. She wittingly replied that it was a “weight distribution issue.”
Justice Scalia was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1986 by President Reagan, and he was confirmed 98-0 by the US Senate. Yes, in a show of bipartisan spirit and cooperation, well known Democrats such as Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Kerry and a guy named Joe Biden, all voted for him.
When Justice Bader Ginsburg’s turn came in 1993, she was also overwhelmingly confirmed, 96-3, with staunch conservatives such as Bob Dole, Storm Thurmond and Mitch McConnell, all supporting her.
Fast forward to the current situation. Think of the recent ugly confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, split along Republican and Democrat divides.
And now, with the recent passing of Justice Bader Ginsburg, we have just witnessed the rapid nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by President Trump, and can only anticipate the nastiness that is soon to ensue in the confirmation process.
And, of course, there is the upcoming US Presidential election in November and the prospect of even more civil unrest, regardless of the outcome. Will President Trump and his followers peacefully accept defeat if they lose? Will all hell break out if they win?
When George H.W. Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, he left a note for the new President, which included these gracious words, “don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course …I wish you well … Your success now is our country’s success … I am rooting hard for you.”
Oh, to disagree without being disagreeable, those were the good old days.