I’m still mad at RBG.
Appointed by Clinton in 1993, Ruth was only the second female on the Supreme Court (That’s right, kids: the mens used to think that mixing a career and family was too much for us. It wasn’t until 1993 that we had enough juice to play in the most powerful court. Did you vote for Hilary?).
Ruth Bader Ginsberg has acquired a bit of a cult following since then, perhaps because our perceptions of both petite, reticent women, and elderly women don’t always square with the powerhouse legal mind and workhorse Ruth so obviously is. The book, Notorious RBG, came out of a Tumblr started by two women who admired her work, particularly her dissenting opinions when the Supreme Court eroded the Voting Rights Act. (http://notoriousrbg.tumblr.com/)
Notes about the book: structurally, it reminded me of a cross between the ‘Dummies’ series of books and a biography. The biographical bits were broken down by subject focus, such as her very early years, academic life, family life, her work pre-Supreme Court, her relationships with other Court members, and her relationship with her husband. Being older and of a more traditional literary discipline, I tend to like my biographies to follow along a more chronological order. I feel it builds a better conceptual idea of how someone becomes who they are. Instead, it jumped around, mentioning her academic work in that section, but then talking more about the personal sacrifices in the family section. So it didn’t work as well for me.
I appreciated the authors’ attempts to make law more interesting and to provide some historical context, but inclusions often made the topical sections feel even more disjointed. For instance, one chapter has a timeline of major decisions affecting women, and one has a short brief she wrote with red notations on the side, commenting on Ruth’s paper. I greatly appreciated the collected pictures, both personal and professional.
So here’s the deal: I’m irritated as hell she didn’t step down during President Obama’s second term, particularly as a person who believed that cultural change comes from small, progressively stacked, well-founded decisions. The trend of the country was obvious. She had faced two cancer diagnosis and turned 80 his second term. Had she retired as Sandra Day O’Connor did after dealing with breast cancer, she would have had a solid 20 years on the court and a remarkable career by anyone’s definition. But no one–not even powerhouses–lives forever, and I felt like she had a duty to her feminist, populist and legal principles to ensure a better successor than one we will be likely to get.
However, in context of her life, it absolutely makes sense from her perspective, that of a woman who is passionately dedicated to law. She worked while her children were young, at one point trading positions with her husband so he could stay home with the kids and support her. I can’t remember, but believe she either worked the day he passed or the day of his funeral. She was meticulous, thoughtful, and prepared. I think she’s an amazing person, but a truly noble act would have been to help shift the court away from the conservative legal minds who erode her own goals.