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