“Find Another Way”​ – What We Must Learn From Supreme Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka ‘Notorious RBG’

by Stacey Joseph, MBA, ODCP, CDP Pronouns – She, Her, Hers

There’s so much to be said about Supreme Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was the second female to serve on the highest court of the Supreme Court and the first Jewish female justice. Very early on in her career, she tried cases that helped to highlight the arbitrary differences assigned to men and women during the Closed Door Era. Her life’s work helped to move our nation, and the word and spirit of our laws further toward justice and equality. She also seemed to maintain a curiosity about the intrinsic value of humanity and human connectedness that isn’t always evident in the political nor legal world. 

Justice RBG made it a point to take on ground breaking cases that would help to build constitutional protections against gender discrimination. Ironically, many of her cases were cases in which she represented men. Some people criticized this, and thought it was her way of selling out to the system once she was finally on the other side of the closed door. They were wrong. Most of her male clients were men with cases that would traditionally have been filed by women. This was brilliant, and strategic. In centering the voices of men, who were either forced or chose to be in what were considered traditional roles or circumstances of women, she found an unsuspecting way for the voices of women, and subsequently other marginalized groups to be heard. For at the center of her cases was the belief that EVERYONE should be on equal footing, and that equity was truly the goal of justice. 

Once appointed as a Supreme Court Judge, Justice Bader Ginsburg found herself the subject of criticism by feminists who thought her to be too conservative, because she once agreed with and cited with approval an aphorism from a male Justice stating – “Justice is not to be taken by storm. She is to be wooed by slow advances.”  Her way was not to succumb to the desire and usual thinking that justice must be swift, but rather, Justice RBG, worked with an enduring ability to see justice, and the law, through eyes of enduring time. She understood that our approach to equity and justice, in any given moment, depends on our previously accomplished as well as failed understanding and application of justice, and our desired trajectory of true justice for the immediate and longterm future. 

In 2013, she was unrelenting in her dissent against The Voting Rights Act. In her dissent, she stated that the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” to “second-generation barriers” She said the law had been effective in thwarting such efforts and made yet another extremely pertinent point: that “racial polarization in voting” makes the Voting Rights Act more relevant than ever. She couldn’t have been more right. If one party sees that another attracts more BIPOC votes, or votes from other marginalized it’s obvious that the party could then have a motive for playing with the laws and moving polling stations to suppress turnout. Such practices would be motivated by the intersecting use of power, privilege, and race, rather than with simple, rudimentary, racism. Again, in that moment, ‘Nortorious RBG’ was seeing justice through the eyes of enduring time. In addition to Supreme Justice Bader Ginsburg’s work of fighting for gender and racial equality, her liberalism extended to all areas of the law, including same sex marriages and other civil rights, criminal procedure, extensive civil liberties and even economic disputes. 

There are so many words spoken by Supreme Justice RBG that have resonated with me. After her male colleagues appeared indifferent about a girls-strip search by school administrators, she simply stated “They have never been a 13-year-old-girl.” I heard RBG share in an interview once “I surely would not be in this room today without the determined efforts of men and women who kept dreams of equal citizenship alive.”As a Black person, a woman, and the daughter of an immigrant (something that I have in common with RBG) these words echo in my mind in every space of privilege that I occupy. They help me to not forget the duty that I have to those who are not in the room, and to those who came before me, who should’ve been in such rooms but were kept out because of discrimination, inequality, and social injustices. Some of the Supreme Jutice’s quotes are simple yet profound, and some are witty responses to questions, comments, or inactions that are latent with bias and/or exclusivity. But it’s the three words at the end of the story about her life that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shares in an NPR interview that speak to me the loudest when I bear witness to an injustice or a moral challenge, and they speak loudly to me in the current moment that we face as a nation. It’s these three words that should echo in the minds, hearts, voices, of every individual who believes in social change, justice, equality, equity, diversity, inclusion, and creating safe spaces of belonging. Three simple words, that as we are faced with endless challenges of a global pandemic, the pandemic of racism and ‘otherization’, gross social injustices etc., I believe we must tap into and deeply honor. Amid, all of these forces that are presently pushing us further from greatness and excellence, we must, in honor of Justice RBG and all social change ambassadors who have remained steadfastly dedicated to the work of equal citizenship, we must, must, must…“find another way.”

NPR Interview 2019 can be found on NPR’s Youtube Channel

Stacey Joseph is the Founder of ImpactEDI™- a social benefit organization that provides consulting services, trainings and workshops, and individual and team leadership coaching centered around diversity, inclusion, and creating safe spaces of belonging; and connecting these key imperatives to the “bottom-line” goals. You can find out more about ImpactEDI™ at impactedi.com; and you can reach out to Stacey directly at Stacey.Joseph@impactedi.com .

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