Ride An Elephant

To their credit, many political pundits waited minutes after the passing of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to go to war. The hypocrisy and hysteria will be monumental, and the outcome remains to be seen. There will be no resolution to be found in reasons, as there are no reasons that matter more than the outcome of who gets to decide on the next Supreme Court associate justice.

Iowa law prof Andy Grewal’s reaction to the passing of Justice Ginsburg wasn’t to argue one way or another, but to post a picture.

It’s no secret that justices Nino Scalia and RBG were dear friends. They attended the opera together. They sat together at lunch. They rode an elephant together. They disagreed to their very core about issues of law, methods of legal interpretation, politics itself perhaps. And yet they were friends.

They could talk to each other like human beings and hash out their disagreements. It didn’t mean either would concede a point, but that they could agree to disagree. They could accept that reasonable minds may differ without demonizing the other for disagreeing. And after disagreeing, they could lay down their arms and still enjoy the friendship they shared.

There will be articles and op-eds written about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vast contributions to the law and society. She was small in stature, and huge in her contributions to our society. Hopefully, there will be enough breathing room before the battle to consider her great contributions to the law.

But for all that she’s done, the image of her atop an elephant with Nino struck me as a legacy of critical significance at this dreadful moment. She didn’t hate her court nemesis. Not knowing either, I hesitate to characterize their relationship. Others, like Justice Scalia’s sons or Bryan Garner, would know far better what the two shared. But one thing that’s clear is that she felt no need to hate Nino because they disagreed. He wasn’t the devil. He wasn’t “literally Hitler.” She didn’t demand he be canceled, impeached or vilified. Instead, she put her hand on his arm as they walked into the opera.

Justice Ginsburg was not shy about her views. She fought for what she believed to be right and expressed herself with integrity, strength and clarity. That’s all one can ask of a Supreme Court justice, as opposed to so many who misapprehend the job to be one of shilling for a tribe, president or cause. But her assertion of her positions never compelled her to resort to the hatred that’s become pervasive in public discourse.

As we remember Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for the arguments she made on behalf of equality for women, in support of constitutional rights, for the good of the law and society as she understood it, let’s also remember the elephant she rode with Justice Scalia.

Believe what you believe. Argue what you must argue. But never hate so much that you wouldn’t ride the elephant with your nemesis. Let that be part of RBG’s legacy too, that she taught us that we can disagree, vehemently, and still ride the elephant together.

17 thoughts on “Ride An Elephant

  1. Guitardave

    One of the best things C.G. Jung brought to the table was the idea that to be a fully functional human you must make the unconscious conscious. Understand and embrace your own shadow. Like justice Ginsburg, make friends with your philosophical enemy. Without doing that, having all the knowledge in the world will still not lead to wisdom.
    In my mind, a world where everyone agreed about everything would make Dante’s little road trip seem like a sweet summer picnic. RIP Justice Ginsburg.

    1. SHG Post author

      There’s a huge difference between someone who sees the world as right and wrong or good and evil versus someone who sees the world as competing ideas challenging their own, and then picks which ideas are the most worthy, even if others have their merits as well.

  2. CLS

    Your post brings to mind a story Judge Jeffery Sutton tells in this book on Scalia I’m currently reading.

    Before he was a judge, Sutton clerked for Justice Scalia. One afternoon Nino was leaving his office with two dozen red roses he wanted to give “Ruth” for her birthday. Sutton remarked he’d never given his wife 24 roses in their near 30 years of marriage. Scalia quipped “You ought to try it sometime.”

    Not wanting to give his boss the last word, Sutton inquired how many deciding votes on 5-4 decisions those roses bought him over the years. Justice Scalia’s response? “Some things are more important than votes.”

    May we all learn from “Ruth” and “Nino’s” friendship. There really are many things more important than votes, indeed.

    1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

      I don’t know, man, I’m with Judge Sutton’s younger self. Some things are indeed more important than SCOTUS votes. But for two of the people who cast them to have put their friendship, their feelz, first? To the point that, to the extent you can infer anything from a quip, Scalia appears not to have minded the partisanship? Sounds a bit like the self-indulgent attitude our mean-ass host complains about in other lawyers.

  3. Richard Kopf


    If one wants to know how the significance of Justice Ginsburg was viewed on the world stage just shortly after her death was announced, the following might help.

    Our beautifully sweet granddaughter of 11, Petra, called my wife Joan last night. It had just been announced that the Justice was dead.

    It was morning in the tiny country of Timor Leste where her mother is head of school and her father a teacher at an NGO for embassy types. The previously war ravaged county, with a population smaller than that of Nebraska, is due north of Darwin, Australia.

    Minutes after the Justice had died, Petra had seen the the breaking news. She was apparently watching an Australian or BBC news show. So she hurriedly called her grandmother.

    Petra was very curious about why RBG was so important. Was it merely because the little old lady was a judge? After all, Petra’s GPA (me) was a judge too, and, without saying it, implied that I was certainly nothing special.

    Joan explained there was a vast difference between the two, and, most significantly, Justice Ginsburg had made it possible for Petra to become a Justice later in life thus overcoming hurdles of womanhood that Petra could barely understand on an abstract level and had not experienced in real life (yet?). GPA, on the other hand, was merely annoying.

    Joan’s explanation satisfied Petra. She is mature beyond her age in some ways and innocent in so many others.*

    All the best.


    * Joan also had to break the news that there will be no more peeps for a while. See More pandemic fallout: No Peeps for Halloween, CNN (September 13, 2020), This caused Petra to utter a cry of deeply excruciating anguish. Some things are more important than others.

  4. Hunting Guy

    Just a heads up.

    I emailed Trump to put your name on the list to replace RBG.

    I would prefer someone that isn’t from the east but I’ll take what I can get.

  5. John Barleycorn


    Too bad these two, extras in the “middle “couldn’t figure out the fractional math-s of the nation’s blueprint before their deaths.

    Oh well, I guess they were too busy trying to figure out some sort of language that would allow them to force the fractions on the integer, instead of paying attention to the dangers of rounding errors.

    RIP Ruth…

  6. RB

    Well done. It’s too bad that tweets like this are such a rarity in the sea of twits, and almost surely lost on those at the extremes that could learn the most from them.

      1. RB

        I was confused and ‘remembered’ twit as only a pejorative, so the reasoning went that this should be called a tweet as a compliment.

        I have since re-read your 2014 post. Perhaps it will stick this time.

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