Brian YS Wong EJ Insight

Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is notorious.

She's notorious for her refusal to stand down. Born in an era, to a society where being a female lawyer is a luxurious dream, and flourishing as a woman in the legal sector a Quixotic pursuit, she persisted. She persisted through law school – where she graduated top of her class, despite being told that she, like the few women who persevered through the experience, had deprived a man of the spot that he had deserved. And she had earned. And persisted she did, through the barriers and predicaments, the wage suppression and arbitrary dismissal that she was confronted by, as she entered the job market. Shattering glass ceilings wasn't something in her mind when she took up a leadership position at a Jewish summer camp – but 70 years later, at 87 years old, she did it, and did far more than just it.

She's notorious, too, for her acerbic wit. Her eulogy at Scalia's funeral embodied her judicial philosophy – dry and oddly phlegmatic on the surface, witty and astute beneath the surface, and an all-encompassing compassion at its core. She fondly recalled the roses that Scalia would send her, as a gift for her birthdays. She herself typified the American Supreme Court's judicial ideal – meticulously astute, continuously devoted to processing cases with pragmatic flair and incisive wisdom. And Ginsburg did all of that with aplomb – with her characteristic penchant for prying apart fallacious arguments and resisting tempting, impulsive thoughts as a dignified judge.

She's notorious amongst the men who hated her, who loved her, and who feared her. From striking down discriminatory laws on the basis of sex – the male sex, that is – to crafting unabashedly tactical, elaborate legal plots as an advocate, Ginsburg was a master strategist. She embodied the virtues of someone who worked within the system, yet refused to give in or kowtow to the oppressive structures that percolated at every level. She stood her ground in a sea of men, and fought tooth and claw for her sisters, those whose "necks" had men's feet trampling all over them. She taught us that fighting for justice took not only time or effort, but also smarts – smarts in persuading the key players who needed persuasion, smarts in crafting arguments for progressivism couched in conservative language, and the smarts in speaking to folks in ways that they could understand and resonate with.

She's notorious, because she was fearless. She did not fear those who shunned and mocked her for her gender and outspoken views. She did not fear the sycophants and subservient folks who saw her as a threat to the entrenched structures. She did not fear the powerful businessmen, the decrepit religious leaders, or the dogmatic conservatives who saw it as their business to police the bodies of women, to stand up selectively and opportunistically for the rights of unborn children, to enforce racial hierarchies at an age where formal hierarchies are taboo yet informal hierarchies yet run amok. She did not give a damn about the naysayers who said, "Too fast!", "Too impatient!", "Too difficult!"

She ran out of patience, and ran for the stars.

She's notorious, as a pillar that embodies the best virtues of the American judiciary system. Prudent, judicious, fair-handed, and level-headed. She's open-minded towards dissent and arguments, yet has no patience for lies and poor reasoning. She is a She who taught us that being He or She shouldn't matter, even though it does, in the constitution. From subverting androcentric assumptions to calling out distorted, white-supremacist structures, Ginsburg saw to the upholding of the law and constitution for all in the land – as opposed to the select, privileged few.

And of course, she's only human. Let's not deify her, by glossing over her errors and mistakes. Let's not forget her questionable decision to stay on the court during Obama's second term, or that she practiced a careful, rueful brand of judicial conservatism that may well irk some who are ardently in favour of more open and flagrant judicial activism. She could have done more, she should have done more – it's easy to speak of such things with an air of cocksure assurance, as if had she done x, y, z, the world would have been better.

The world is in a much better shape thanks to Ginsburg. But it's also the case that we are living in unprecedented times. Truly unprecedented times, with the leader of arguably the world's most important country being a flagrant liar who has openly attacked the judiciary with ferocity and malevolence. Donald Trump poses a grave threat to the free world – a world that he claims as his own, but who should and would never side with a tyrant as hypocritical as he is.

Ginsburg's dying words and wishes were that her successor should be appointed under the new president. It's unclear if her wishes would ever come true – only time, and fate, would tell. But till we meet again, Ginsburg. Thank you for being the notorious, wise vanquisher – who vanquished all that stood between reality, and the truth.





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