Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is a huge loss. Justice Ginsburg was a brilliant legal scholar, a trailblazer and pioneer, and a champion for the rights of those at the margins. Justice Ginsburg’s name and legacy will live on and her impact on the American legal landscape will be remembered for generations.
The timing of Justice Ginsburg’s death, however, is momentous. Occurring in the closing weeks of a presidential election, one can scarcely imagine a circumstance of the appointment of a Supreme Court justice more politically charged than the one we find ourselves in now.
In the civics classes of my youth, I was taught that the Supreme Court was to be a non-political body. Justices are invested with lifetime terms, selected directly by the president, and appointed only after the advice and consent of the Senate. These measures were intended to ensure that the justices were beyond reproach, that they could not be dismissed as political appointees. The legitimacy of the rule of law in this country hangs upon the slender nail of public respect for the decisions of the court. This is what I was taught about our country.
In my adult life, of course, I have seen these civics-class ideals meet the exercise of raw political power time and again. The coming weeks will surely place the Supreme Court at the very center of the struggle between political parties.
Yet even so, there is reason for hope. In its way, the Supreme Court itself stubbornly asserts its independence as a body. Justice Neil Gorsuch — whose appointment was steeped in partisan politics — has not proven to be the ideologue some may have hoped. It was Justice Gorsuch, after all, who authored this year’s landmark decision protecting LGBTQ people from employment discrimination.
Although the coming spectacle surrounding this appointment will be grievous and harmful, the institutions of this nation are stronger than any one moment.
The news of Justice Ginsburg’s death is hard. And it is surely hardest on those who have the most to lose: women, LGBTQ people, persons of color, immigrants, the poor, all those whose rights and dignity Justice Ginsburg championed. A champion for justice has been lost today, that is true. But the cause of justice has not been lost. This nation aspires to be a place of liberty and justice for all. That is our guiding star, though it is far from us and we have not arrived.
Justice Ginsburg has done her work to serve justice. Now it is ours to continue that work.
Rev. John Edgerton
Lead pastor, First United Church of