Thoughts on the Death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday Sept 18, 2020 at the age of 87. She was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and had been battling cancer in one form or another since 1999. She vowed to remain on the bench as long as she was capable of doing her job “full steam”. Sadly, she ran out of steam last Friday.

Her intelligence, wit and empathy will be greatly missed as the Supreme Court tilts even further to the right (Republican appointees will outnumber Democratic appointees six to three after President Trump appoints her replacement).

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Americans are right be deeply distressed by this harsh reality, but Canadians are equally upset.

Why?

It’s not as if the decisions of the US Supreme Court are binding on Canadian courts (contrary to what some Canadians think, Canada’s Constitution is not a pallid reflection of the American Constitution).

Something Chimed

To my mind, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death chimed in our hearts because she personified the last line of defence against slippery governments that promise prosperity, but deliver pain in the name of free market ultra-conservative ideology.

Even Canadians who weren’t paying attention finally understand there’s a catch when a conservative politician says ‘in order to be a caring society, we must be prosperous first.’

Actually there are two:

First, some people will never be prosperous enough, they’ll always want more.

Second, no matter what the government does to “unleash” the economy; be it lowering taxes, gutting environmental and O&S protections, hobbling unions, privatizing healthcare, education and public services, stripping women and minorities of their rights and eliminating public criticism by making peaceful protests illegal, prosperity continues to elude us and most citizens are worse off.

The only way to change these oppressive laws (assuming there’s no election on the horizon) is to challenge them in court.

Legal challenges take time and money. They bounce from one level of court to another and at each level those fighting to protect the people, the environment and our democratic institutions take their chances with whoever is sitting on the bench. If their case is heard by a panel of judges who are predisposed to rule in favour of corporations and their wealthy owners then all is lost.  

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death reminds us just how bad things can get if such governments remain unchecked. Historian Nancy MacLean’s term “Kochtopus” (to describe Charles Koch’s influence over America’s democratic institutions) comes to mind.

None of us is a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but every one of us can do something to ensure our next government is not a bunch of free market conservative ideologues. Pitching in a few bucks or some volunteer time to support a party that values public services, the environment and our rights and freedoms is a lot cheaper than having to fall back on our last line of defence, the courts.

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49 Responses to Thoughts on the Death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

  1. Katie Pearlman says:

    As a dual citizen, U.S./Canada, I wholeheartedly agree with your astute assessment. Progressives right now in the U.S. are highly motivated in this election year to move our government back to the Center and then leftward. We made a big mistake in 2016 being too complacent, as all the polls told us Hillary would win and that Trump was a joke! Ha, what has occurred during the last 4 years is embarrassing, sad, and unbearable. So we phone, write letters, send texts, March, and organize to Get Out The Vote.
    This is a sad and hard lesson and we need to fast track in Canada to get up to speed. Pay attention to what the UCP says AND what they do. Right now we need to be writing letters to the editor when things don’t seem right, we need to talk to our friends and family. And as our next election approaches here in Alberta and in Canada we need to become VERY engaged. WE are the government. It works FOR us. So start thinking about getting involved. I know making waves isn’t the Canadian way, but , just but! A Democracy does not function without us. Take it from my family and friends south of the border, if you don’t fight for democracy you can loose it real fast!

    • Katie: thank you for your words of wisdom! Your point is very important: Canadians are making a big mistake if they think it can’t happen here. As the historian Timothy Snyder says, some of the worst tyrants in history were democratically elected, once they assumed power they destroyed democratic institutions and norms leaving such a mess that people couldn’t dislodge them for decades.

  2. I have read so much about her over the years, and even more in the last few days. I read a quote attributed to her, who knows if it is true or not, but it basically said if you believe you’re a professional, you’re not, not until you give to the community around you. Your last paragraph reminded me of that quote. Help your fellow human. RIP Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

    • Linda: sometimes I wonder whether there would be fewer Donald Trumps and Jason Kenney’s in power if more of us helped our fellow human beings. Seems to me compassionate people who respect others don’t vote for politicians like them.
      Speaking of RBG quotes I just saw this one: RBG was asked what the secret to a happy marriage was. She said her mother-in-law gave her this advice: “Sometimes it helps to be a little deaf.” RBG also said that was excellent advice for dealing with her colleagues on the court, too. Smart lady!

  3. Liane Sharkey says:

    Thank you, Susan, for providing a small beacon of hope in what feels like a dark day within already very dark shadows. In our Rosh Hashana services yesterday, one of our rabbis, riffing on her popular nickname of the “Notorious RBG”, renamed her the “Victorious RBG”, and I think your words truly underline that characterization. We must move forward with the hope and determination she always possessed.

    • Liane what a wonderful thing for your rabbi to say. I sense that RBG’s death (and the battle over her replacement) will increase support for Joe Biden. People are gathering outside of the Supreme Court to show their respect for RBG, but they’re also demonstrating their support for the democratic system she protected until the day she died.
      The fact she stayed on the bench as long as she did–my god, she was 87 and very ill–shows how important this battle is. If RBG refused to give up the fight, at a time when her life was measured in days not decades, then we have no excuse, we keep on fighting.

  4. Jana Thornton says:

    On Mon, 21 Sep 2020 at 00:22, Susan on the Soapbox wrote:

    > > > > > > > susanonthesoapbox posted: ” > US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday Sept 18, 2020 > at the age of 87. She was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton > in 1993 and had been battling cancer in one form or another since 1999. She > vowed to remain on the bench ” > > > >

  5. midge says:

    “some people will never be prosperous enough, they’ll always want more”
    Bingo! Greed is the underlying basis of the mess we seem to be making of our society along with the fear that someone will move ahead by
    taking from our “share”. Greed fuels the endless systematic racism we see in every dispute over land & resources.
    Enough is never enough.

    • Pearlman Katie says:

      Truth to power!

    • Dwayne says:

      midge: I just read recently that the premier of Alberta wants Ottawa to fork over around $6 billion which the UCP thinks Ottawa owed Alberta. The second round of corporate tax cuts for Alberta weren’t a success, and the UCP asked Ottawa for money it claimed Alberta was owed, just like after the first time the UCP’s corporate tax cuts didn’t help Alberta. Just more lost revenue, and no new jobs given.

      • Dwayne, I also read that Kenney told Trudeau that Alberta was doing so poorly Kenney couldn’t sell Alberta government bonds for a few weeks. NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips responded, “when Mr Kenney says we can’t borrow on the international markets, it’s a lie.” Apparently, the government’s own finance information shows the government went to debt markets 44 times between Mar 20 and Sept 16 for a total of $21 billion. Phillips said Kenney is just trying to “distract from his economic record and his failure to revive the economy.” No kidding!
        What I want to know is where did all those billions of dollars go? 87% of all the covid relief funding for all the provinces came from the Feds, so he can’t blame this deficit on covid, part of it was thrown away on the US portion of KXL, but where’s the rest of it. I can’t wait to see Kenney’s next budget–it’s going to be an eye opener.

    • Well said midge. In my experience liberals (with a small “l”) are more willing to share than conservatives who seem more worried about someone else getting “their” share.
      How else do you explain their undying support of the flat tax, The conservatives say progressive taxation is unfair and “soaks” the rich, but 10% of a poor person’s income has a greater impact on their lives than 10% of a rich person’s income. I compare it to carrying a 10 pound rock up a hill, it’s a lot harder for a 3 year old than a 23 year old.

  6. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for another great blog. Here in Alberta, under the UCP, it’s getting worse and worse. Look at what the next target of the UCP has been. Those on AISH. What are your thoughts on that? I don’t know what it will take for people in Alberta to see that the UCP are not doing Alberta any good. If it’s not one thing the UCP are messing with in Alberta, it’s another thing. It is around 2 and a half years before the next provincial election in Alberta will be held. I hope there is momemtum to show the UCP the door in 2023.

    • Dwayne, I didn’t think the Kenney government could get much worse, then it targeted those receiving AISH. The public backlash gave them pause, so they regrouped. Instead of cutting the funding per AISH recipient, which is already de-indexed which means AISH recipients will get $30 less each month next year, Kenney’s government is going to “streamline” the AISH process. I can’t help but wonder whether this is an euphemism for finding another way to cut the AISH budget. Instead of cutting the amount paid to each AISH recipient, they can just reduce the number of people eligible for AISH. The end result is the same, a lower budget for AISH.
      It’s like watching a con artist playing “find the pea”.

      • Dwayne says:

        Susan: Even the columnist, Cam Tait, wrote a column which scathed the UCP for this. It was in the Edmonton Sun, of all places, sometime last week. The cuts to AISH will only lead to more homelessness. Where is the sense in that?

  7. Susan, her death hit me hard. I remember hearing the TV announcer reporting her death and I just kept saying, “No, no,” to the TV screen. It’s the the type of news that you stop what you’re doing. You are absolutely right. I saw her as the final guard to protect human rights and freedoms. Thank you for honouring this icon.

    • You’re welcome Joanna. I keep thinking of her courage. She was 87 and had been fighting cancer since 1999, I’m sure there were days when she thought she’d done enough and it was time to hang up her robe and spend more time with her grandchildren; but she stayed on and continued to fight for justice.
      The contrast between people like her and Trump, Barr and the rest of that wretched bunch couldn’t be more stark.
      Oh, here’s a cute story. RBG said when her son was small she kept getting calls from the school about his behavior. She told the school “This child has two parents. Please alternate calls.” It was her husband’s turn. She said after that the frequency of calls dropped off, not because her son was better behaved, but because the school was loath to call his father, a man.
      Smart lady!

  8. Paul "kill the black snake" says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Susan. In order to get “our economy, up and running” this facile government of Jason “The Emperhorror of the West” is using our children as political guinea pigs to get people back to work. We can see daily how that is working. If Mr. Kenney and his gang of thugs, bullies and used car salesmen want to get our economy back on track, how about universal child care so women have a chance to work.?? Seems the UCP ideologues couldn’t think past their noses (brown though they may be) to include women in the restart…I guess it’s a mute point when they will be closing down schools…..again. Seems to me, some heads should roll. We can start with Legrande and Shandro.

    • Paul, you make an excellent point about including women in the restart of the economy. Kenney seems to see little value in women (especially mothers) working. He couldn’t wait to dismantle Notley’s $25/day daycare plan. Now he’s sitting back waiting for the Feds to fund childcare across the country. This is so short sighted. The Globe ran an article today that said before Quebec introduced universal, low-cost child care it had the lowest rate of working moms in all of Canada; after it introduced the program it had the highest rate of working moms. Getting everyone working (safely!) is how you restart the economy, but when you’re a politician longing for the “good old days” this idea is unthinkable.
      I share your concern about Legrade and Shandro, between the two of them we’ll be lucky to make it through covid without another shut down.

  9. Paul "kill the black snake" says:

    maybe we could talk about the closing of 175 Alberta Provincial Parks, without any public consultation and the opening of the Eastern Slopes for open pit coal mines by billionaire Australian mindless corporate interests….what do you think they are going to do with those park closures? privatize? lease for logging, mining and oil and gas?? This is going to be an issue for some time…..

    • Paul, agreed. Why anyone would think this is a good idea is beyond me.
      Sure a few Albertans will get jobs working in the coal mines (not exactly a career with an illustrious future), but the corporate taxes paid by the company are 8% or less depending on what incentives the government gives them and how good their accountants are, and the damage to the Eastern Slopes and Alberta’s reputation as an ESG place to invest sinks even lower.
      I have no idea how Kenney plans to sell this to Albertans, even UCP supporters are mad about this.

  10. Carlos says:

    ‘in order to be a caring society, we must be prosperous first.’

    This is not a by accident chosen idea. Conservatives know full well that this gave them the freedom not to ever change their austerity and privatization of public services and free markets and deregulation for the corporations and the super rich. This is of course ideal for the class that supports them.
    The biggest charade ever created with Nazi style propaganda and now in the second stage which of course is to control and destroy what we have left of a liberal democracy and make the situation perpetual. The US is in the final stages of this second wave of neo-liberal awe and shock doctrine.

    • Dwayne says:

      Carlos: The U.S.A seems to be falling apart. Things don’t seem to be getting better over there. Who is the UCP getting their cues, or ideas from, and look at what’s happening.

    • Carlos, I agree, the comment prosperity first, then compassion is beyond heartlessness, but just look at how these ultra conservative governments describe taxes. It’s framed in words like the “takers” who exploit the “makers”, (ie those who “take” by accessing social benefits are freeloaders taking from those who “make” wealth). This ignores the fact that lower income people pay taxes too and the flat tax is a heavier burden on them than it is on the rich.
      Your point about the US is well taken. Every day there’s news of a new abuse of the democratic process.
      I saw an interview with the lawyer/author Scott Turow who was asked if he could change any law what would it be. I thought he was going to say repeal the death penalty, but what he said was repeal the laws that said a corporation is like a person and can make unlimited political donations. The courts said corporation donations were a matter of free speech. He said equating a dollar with free speech was ludicrous and had caused untold damage to democracy as it’s practiced in the US. But the US is so far gone now, how will it fix itself?

      • Carlos says:

        Susan I agree with Scott Turow 1000$ and as you know that law has been criticized and debated to death by most Progressive politicians, lawyers and economists for decades now. It is for sure one of the critical points of the expansion of new-liberal politics around the world.
        As far as your last question I think we will have the answer in November. If Trump wins, the world will be thrown into the Dark Ages like Margaret Mead predicted. If not Joe Biden might help us escape from the extreme control neo-liberal ideology as all over the world. I personally believe Joe Biden is a neo-liberal but there are many people in the Democratic party that if well supported may give us a needed brake. We do not have any other alternative anyway. Even at the Scandinavian countries they are struggling with neo-liberal politics that have moved social- democracy there to the right enormously if compared to what they were just 20 years ago.
        To be frank, I am not too optimistic but I certainly am hopeful that we change direction even if so slightly this decade thanks in part to climate change and at this moment to the pause that covid-19 forced on all of us. It has caused facts to come up as important in a world that had basically given up on them. I never thought we would understand clearly how a country like Germany created Nazism but we are going through a similar process right now in the Western World. We can fully understand how easy democracy can be destroyed when it is not nurtured and fully explained and made to evolve with the younger generations. Not just exploit it for political purposes like it has clearly been since the 1960s. We need to move our political systems forward not backward. Our future is in the development of new forms of democratic power and not dictatorships.

      • Carlos, as you said, the Nov election will be a harbinger of things to come. Sadly, even if Trump is trounced, he’s done so much to undermine the process that his supporters will not accept the result. I see nothing but chaos on the horizon for the US. I only hope it doesn’t wash across the border even more than it already has.

      • jerrymacgp says:

        I agree with Turow, but I don’t think it was a “law”, i.e. a statute, but a high court decision, Citizens United. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC

      • Jerrymacgp, you’re right, it was a decision of the Supreme Court. Turow mentioned an even earlier case, which laid the foundation for Citizens United. He practically sneered when he talked about how ludicrous it was to equate the right to free speech with the “right” to donate a dollar to a politician.

      • Carlos says:

        Jerry you are right but what is the difference in real terms. The Supreme Court decision is not challenged that often is it?
        So my point was not if it is law or not but whether or not that is what rules. I think that is the important point. I am sorry if I called it a law – I meant in what really is the prevailing belief.

      • Actually Carlos and Jerry you’re both right. The law is comprised of statutory law and case law (court decisions which become precedents). The interplay between these two types of law is nicely illustrated by the evolution of the acceptance of medically assisted dying. Before the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Carter v Canada in 2015 it was a criminal offense for doctors to assist the terminally ill to end their lives. After the Carter decision Parliament had to amend the Criminal Code to bring it into line with the court decision which made this legal under certain circumstances..
        Carlos, as to your question about whether the Supreme Court is ever challenged, the short answer is no, once the Supreme Court of Canada makes a decision that is it, however a wise court will evolve with the times. That’s exactly what happened in the Carter case. Beverley McLachlin was on the bench in an earlier case, Rodriquez, in which she joined the majority saying medically assisted dying was illegal. Years later she heard the Carter case and changed her mind, having decided that society had moved on and safeguards could be built into the process to ensure that medically assisted dying wasn’t abused by, say, children who wanted to get rid of granddad so they could inherit his wealth.
        This is why I love the Canadian justice system. It’s a living breathing thing, not something hamstrung by political ideology.
        PS This probably why Stephen Harper found Beverley McLachlin and her court so frustrating, even his own judicial appointees were independent of conservative ideology.

      • Carlos says:

        Susan I cannot agree more with you as far as the consequences of 4 years of as administration that did nothing but spread racism and disrespect for others.
        I have said many times before, that I would not be surprised with civil unrest in parts of the US. Even tonight could be dangerous when again police officers are completely blameless in another murder of a black American citizen. So much for apartheid in South Africa.

      • Carlos says:

        Thank you Susan for that wonderful explanation of how the Courts can evolve. I am a progressive person so these issues fascinate me even though the evolution can be tremendously slow but understandable. On the other hand we have conservatives like Jason Kenney, Harper and many others that choose to be stuck forever. The rest of us have to be able to live with their mentality and try to go back to whatever is that was written centuries ago. The only way to impose this is by force hence their dislike for democracy.

  11. David Hay says:

    well said! as always … note the typo gremlins in your piece “Ginsburg” all the best and cheers, d.

    David Hay Victoria BC 250 589 9295 ca.linkedin.com/pub/david-hay/46/549/178/

    On Sun, Sep 20, 2020 at 4:22 PM Susan on the Soapbox wrote:

    > susanonthesoapbox posted: ” US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg > died on Friday Sept 18, 2020 at the age of 87. She was appointed to the > court by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and had been battling cancer in one > form or another since 1999. She vowed to remain on the bench ” >

  12. jerrymacgp says:

    Human rights in the Benighted States are in jeopardy. Expect Roe v Wade — the inescapable litmus tsr of American politics & judicial positioning — to be torpedoed by the Court that emerges after a The Donald fills RBG’s seat. The US will once again begin applying the untrammelled power of the State to force pregnant women and girls to carry their pregnancies to term against their will, under pain of criminal prosecution.

    Separation of Church & State … marriage equality … the last vestiges of any control over the influence of money in politics … the right not to be shot down in the streets for the crime of being BIPOC … the basic civil & legal rights of newcomers to the US … all of these, and so much more, are under attack by well-funded conservative activists in that country, many of them evangelical Christians.

    Fascism is clearly on the march south of the 49th parallel.

    • Jerrymacgp: I recall hearing a Republican strategist discussing Trump on CBC radio. She said people will continue to vote for Trump no matter what he does because they believe he’ll (1) fix the economy, or (2) pack the Supreme Court with right wing candidates who’ll reverse Roe v Wade, etc. Fix the economy seemed to boil down to lower taxes for the rich and packing the Supreme Court seemed to be based in evangelical religious ideology. When I heard the interview I thought she missed the third reason: Trump supporters vote for him because they believe he’ll “fix” the social order (re: Christian white men are reinstalled back on top where they belong). This ties in with Trump’s interview with Bob Woodward about white privilege, where Woodward said he and Trump had something in common, they both benefited from white privilege and Trump said “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”

  13. Dave says:

    Two main thoughts come to mind for me.

    First, is what an amazing woman she was. At an age when most people would be comfortably retired, she seemed to become even more energetic and passionate as she got older. Not only did she break barriers and defy stereotypes as a woman, but also as an active senior citizen. It is amazing that in an era when there is a lot of ageism, some of her greatest fans were younger people.

    My second thought is it is unfortunate how the judiciary is becoming so politicized in the US. I suppose this really is not a surprise in the divided states of america where everthing seems to become political these days, even things like wearing masks. In recent years, the Republicans have fairly successfully gamed the system in the US. The Senate and Electoral College gives disproportionate power to smaller often Republican states. Also, they choose the Supreme Court, so they can impose their will on the majority that did not support them. I understand some of the historical reasons it was set up this way, but now the US electoral system itself is arguably no longer fit for purpose and needs reform. It hasn’t changed with the times and is increasingly becoming less and less effective and reflective of society.

    I hope if the US does get rid of Trump and his Senate enablers next month, the dam will break and much more will happen than just a change of party in power. Their whole electoral system is also in dire need of reform.

    • Dave, I agree. The fact the country is in upheaval over the replacement of one person, a Supreme Court justice, demonstrates how fragile democracy has become there. Contrast that with Canada, there was no panic in the streets when it came time to name Chief Justice Beverley McLauhlin’s successor (it’s Richard Wagner) and except for the time Stephen Harper tried to appoint Marc Nadon who, the Supreme Court ruled was ineligible, no one fussed about any of the appointees by either the Liberal or Conservative prime ministers.

  14. GoinFawr says:

    As usual, irony abounds, since the “McConnel Rule” apparently doesn’t apply to the currently governing party in the US.

    “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new President is installed.” R.B.G

    • Carlos says:

      Well we all know now that calling Donald Trump a president is as ridiculous as calling my dog a cat.

      By the way here is something that should be made more public – we have very few places where we can have facts and so with apologies here is something I think you should read and make public

      https://scottharoldpayne.com/the-bully-pulpit-dr-jillian-ratti/

      • Carlos, thanks for the article on Dr Jillian Ratti. I met Janet when we both worked on Janet Eremenko’s campaign to represent our riding in the last election. The fact that Jason Kenney’s government can drive someone as talented and committed as Jillian out of the province speaks volumes for just how appalling the UCP are.
        Oh, and Janet Eremenko lost to Doug Schweitzer, and it’s been chaos ever since.

    • GoinFawr: what’s interesting about that RBG quote is she didn’t say she wanted to put the process on hold until Biden was installed, she said she wanted to put the process on hold until “a new President” is installed. She was simply asking Trump et al to honour the existing democratic process as set out by McConnel. (Yes, that’s ironic).
      The fact Trump refuses to do so makes me wonder whether he thinks he’s going to lose. Or maybe it’s just another example of Trump being the bully that he is. His modus operandi is create chaos whenever the opportunity presents itself. In this case the battle to appoint RBG’s replacement deflects attention from Trump’s failure to manage the covid crisis and Black Lives Matter and a hundred other things.

  15. Carlos says:

    Well Jason Kooky is going on tangents about racism. Does this man has any integrity whatsoever? Any morals or ethics left in the UCP by any chance?
    WOW talk about disaster.

    • Dwayne says:

      Carlos: UCP MLA, Grant Hunter, Christian Champion, and Paul Bunner come to mind. The UCP clearly doesn’t take racism seriously, in regards to tackling it.

  16. Midge says:

    I love that story about the calls from the school. I wish I had thought about back in the day.
    Thanks!

  17. Dwayne says:

    Carlos: UCP MLA, Grant Hunter, Christian Champion, and Paul Bunner come to mind. The UCP clearly doesn’t take racism seriously, in regards to tackling it.

    • Carlos says:

      Well Dwayne we have to have prosperity before we can take care of these issues according to them.
      This of course means that society does not exist until we reach prosperity. Nothing new as they are all Ayn Randish and Thatcherites so they do not care about any of those issues.
      Those are Kooky academic issues that do not deserve any attention.
      What they do is markets, economics, reduce taxes to the corporations and the rich. That is all they understand.
      Judging by what happened in Red Deer many of them are definitely admirers of the Soldiers of Odin. No one in the government has said much about it.

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