Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Notorious R.B.G.

When I was a little boy of about 6 or 7 I loved the cowboy programs on the radio and on television, Roy Rogers, The Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger.  I would stand twirling my toy guns over my bed, so I would not drop them on the floor, never being able to do it like the “real” cowboys. Then in 5th or 6th grade my French teacher who was returning to France left me his entire Perry Mason series. Being a cowboy was not going to happen for this city kid and I decided I was going to give up the guns and be a lawyer instead.  Luckily, I realized early on that I did not have the mind nor memory that a good lawyer needs so I went into the family art dealership.  My fascination with the law, however, never diminished, and in recent decades I have a new hero, RBG.

RBG at work

For those unfamiliar with the initials R.B.G they stand for Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1933-) a most distinguished Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court RBG  who was appointed to the highest court in the land by William Jefferson Clinton in 1993 and where she has served  for a quarter century.  She says that when she joined the court she was the fourth most liberal judge on that illustrious bench but, as the court and politics change, she now considers herself the second most liberal.  You can imagine, therefore, that she has become quite the hero to Democrats and liberals of all ages.

RBG wearing one of her many Court Collars

The film that just came out called “RBG” is one of the best and most interesting in the genre of documentaries. It starts out with RBG quoting 19th-century feminist and abolitionist Sarah Grimk√©.  "I ask no favor for my sex, all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”   RBG is also known as “The Notorious RBG”, a sobriquet that was derived from the rapper known as “The Notorious B.I.G.”  Unfortunately, the rapper,  ranked by Billboard as among the ten greatest rappers of all time, died at age 24 but The Notorious RBG is 85 and still going strong.  She is fond of pointing out that she and B.I.G. both hail from Brooklyn, New York.

The directors of the film, Julie Cohen and Betsy West were very patient for it took two  years for  RBG to agree to interviews and the film.  Meanwhile, the directors were in touch with her family, friends and colleagues.  Her son and daughter and her granddaughter, the latter two both becoming lawyers and receiving their degrees from Harvard Law are part of the tableau painted iby the film, as well as President Clinton and one of the early pioneers of the women’s movement Gloria Steinem, who declares RBG a “Superhero”.


RBG was married soon after she graduated from high school to the love of her life Martin Ginsberg, a noted tax lawyer, who contrary to his colleagues found no problem with women in the law.  He was always her advocate and they remained happily married until his death in 2010.

At Harvard Law School she was one of 9 women in a class of 500.  The Dean invited her and the other in-coming female students for a tea where he asked them how they justified taking the places of 9 men.  She showed him by making The Harvard Law Review that year.  At the time no large law firm would hire a Jewish woman so she taught law instead.  She joined the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in their fight for equal rights for women.  She argued several landmark cases before the Supreme Court and proving her belief in  equal rights for all in “Frontiero vs. Richardson”.
 
This landmark case was about a female officer in the military who wanted to get benefits for her husband but found that under military statutes that men in the military could get living benefits for their wives, but not vice versa.  Her oral argument, delivered without notes, was greatly admired and helped to bring her to national attention as a champion of the women’s movement.

In the film we see any number of well-known people, conservatives as well as liberals who admire RBG.  As I have mentioned in a past blog, probably her best friend, after her husband, was the most conservative Associate Justice on the Court, Antonin Scalia with whom she shared a passion for opera.  She shows her self awareness and sense of humor in that she confesses to enjoying Kate McKinnon’s humorous take offs on her in the long-lived comedy program “Saturday Night Live”.

RBG and her comedic imitator, Kate McKinnon

Thanks to RBG things have changed since her early days but she continues to make a difference writing incisive dissenting opinions to today’s conservative majority decisions so frequently that she has become known as  “The Great Dissenter”.

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