Editor’s note: This commentary is by William Moore, a resident of Johnson, Vermont.
September 26, 2020 may be remembered as the most pivotal historic moment from this turbulent year and apocryphal presidential election. That is when the next likely Supreme Court Justice was named by a duly elected president, now to be considered by a similarly seated Senate.
A woman of independent thought, powerful intellect and historical insight will stand for confirmation under our “greatest of all constitutions.” Her name and family and all her professional and academic allies will be subjected to a most horrible ideological pillory. For history and clarity, the pillory is the wooden stocks that a person would be locked in for public humiliation and torture for supposed crimes. It was a brutal archaic form of punishment meted out by the mob. Innocent or not, that pillory stands in our electronic free press and social media, and in our burning streets.
As one who has read some of the opinions and dissents of those who were the likely nominees, I suggest that all sides do likewise before the epithets and rocks fly. Let that pillory remain empty in our civic town square and let us exorcise our ideological demons elsewhere. The ballot box comes to mind.
As one of the few here in Vermont who have read many of the opinions and dissents of the late and great Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I suggest we all hesitate before issuing ideological fallacies as though they alone profess her “legacy.” Ginsburg was a woman of independent thought, powerful intellect and historical insight. Her legacy is carved in stone and no living person can add or detract from it now here on earth. Many will try, bleating her name in defense of this or that position, perjuring themselves in pursuit of mere politics and position. The temporary cache of the name and initials RBG will fade and these posers will move on.
The true legacy will remain untouched, as it should, in her writings, both in majority and dissent on the Supreme Court of the United States. Also history will preserve her work as an attorney fighting and writing for the ACLU and on behalf of her many clients seeking the promise of our great constitutional government. Like the late great Justice Antonin Scalia, her dear friend in life, a written legacy is laid firmly as a building block for future jurists in death.
These written words, the laws and statutes of our nation, and the aspirations of our Declaration of Independence, are all parts of her legacy. After all, our Constitution is merely words if the civic religion gives up on praising those words and aspiring to fulfill their promises. That was the life’s work of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Those who seek to elevate her beyond that for politics are not aspiring to any of these nor to her legacy.
Those who use her name to elevate their ideology or power above others should be viewed with suspicion if not contempt. She wrote it down as part of her dissent in Bush v. Gore; even the Supreme Court of the United States should demur to exercise powers not expressly given by our great Constitution. To respect Ginsburg’s legacy, it would seem restraint and aspirational language is the order of the day. None wishing to pillory need apply. Sinners set down your stones today.
According to her granddaughter, Clara Spera, who recorded her final thoughts, Ginsburg wished that the next elected president, not specifically a different president, name her successor. When asked whether she wished to add more, she declined, saying, “The rest of my work is a matter of public record.”
When asked for more she declined to descend into the miry clay of partisan politics, factionalism or pillory. Her legacy was secure in her mind and heart. She knew her words were recorded for all to see, and they reflect the aspiration to liberty she fought to secure all her life.
“My grandmother fundamentally was someone who believed in the institutions that she served and the fundamental institutions of American governance — the Senate, the House, the presidency,” Clara Spera said. “For her, keeping politics out of the Supreme Court was a very important thing.”
The nomination of a Supreme Court justice by a duly elected president and consideration by a similarly legitimate Senate now begins, regardless of the late Ginsburg’s wishes. If Ginsburg’s aspirational legacy to our Constitutional Republic means anything, people should respect that legitimacy and her deathbed restraint at not taking to the pillory with the mob.