From Esquire (Charles P. Pierce):
The associate justice of the Supreme Court, whose career runs parallel to that of Justice Thurgood Marshall, is dead at 87
will remember her most for the umbrella in the rain.
It was 2013, and the Supreme Court was announcing its decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act and in which Chief Justice John Roberts declared the Day of Jubilee, writing:
Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Shelby County contends that the preclearance requirement, even without regard to its disparate coverage, is now unconstitutional. Its arguments have a good deal of force. In the covered jurisdictions, “[v]oter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg measured Roberts for a feckless child who understands less about this country and its history than he knows about Sumerian calligraphy. She told him in no uncertain terms what his fanciful decision would mean in the real world.
“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. … One would expect more from an opinion striking at the heart of the Nation’s signal piece of civil-rights legislation…Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
It was more than a clever metaphor, although clever it was. It was a statement of remarkable prescience, a statement from someone who knew that the dark elements in American history never die, but only sleep until the opportunity to wreak the old vengeances reveals itself again, as it almost always does. Justice Ginsburg fought those forces in the days when nobody even acknowledged their existence. Her career runs parallel to that of Justice Thurgood Marshall—two champions of freedom and equality who won great victories in front of a Court that they eventually were asked to join. It is a very small club. To join you need a will of iron, an unshakable granite commitment to principle, and a good measure of controlled, implacable ferocity. It is the ferocity that is the most important thing.
By all accounts, Justice Ginsburg was a boon companion, the late Antonin Scalia’s opera buddy, and a woman of great personal charisma. (On MSNBC Friday night, Hillary Rodham Clinton reminisced about how Justice Ginsburg essentially talked President Bill Clinton into nominating her to the Court by completely acing her face-to-face interview.) Her former clerks adored her. In an admirable demonstration of self-effacement, she thoroughly embraced her late-in-life persona as The Notorious RBG, even inviting camera crews in to watch her workouts. But, make no mistake, there was in Ruth Bader Ginsburg the soul and the heart of a terrifying opponent for the late rounds. In a remarkable string of victories before the Supreme Court in 1971, she forced the country to admit that, yes, the 14th Amendment’s guarantees covered women, too. This was a fight for a winter soldier and that was what it found in Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just as racial equality had found one in Thurgood Marshall. And she did it through broken ribs and five different fights with cancer.