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.
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.