Saturday, September 19, 2020



In our discussions of Supreme Court Justices over the years, Sandy Levinson and I have adopted a rough division. Some justices who would not be very much remembered if they had never been appointed to the Supreme Court. Their primary achievement was that they sat on the Court, and their greatness, to the extent they are great, comes primarily from what they did while they were there.

A second group of Justices led noteworthy lives before they became Supreme Court Justices, and you could easily imagine someone writing a biography about them even if they had never been appointed to the Court. Indeed, one reason why they were appointed is because of their remarkable achievements.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg falls into the second category. Even had she never been appointed to the Supreme Court, she would have been an important figure in the second wave of American feminism, and a crucial figure in the modern legal campaign for women's rights. The obstacles she had to overcome would have been just as great, and her overcoming of those obstacles would have been just as inspiring. One could easily imagine a biography written about such a remarkable person and her remarkable life.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me hasten to add that her work on the Supreme Court was significant too. Her presence on the Court was important to American law in myriad ways. Her opinion in U.S. v. Virginia, and her dissent in Shelby County will still be read many years from now. And her status as a Supreme Court Justice certainly amplified her public influence so that, by the time of her death, she had become a beloved icon in popular culture.  She also mentored many devoted law clerks, who have, and will continue to have, an important impact on the law. But make no mistake: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a hero even before President Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court. It is just that fewer people would have known about it.

Rest in Peace and Rest in Power.

Older Posts
Newer Posts