RUTH. BADER. GINSBERG.
this is the same woman that was part of the unanimous supreme court decision to strike down the buffer zone around abortion clinics that is critical to women’s safety. like. can we not glorify her she is hurting women and the fact that she is a Powerful Woman doesn’t change the fact that she is a Powerful Person Doing Horrible Things for Women
I knew when I reblogged my previous post that this point would come up eventually…
There’s a fundamental disconnect between judges handing down decisions and their personal beliefs, primarily because they’re constrained in formulating the former (by existing law, in this case the US Constitution) but not necessarily the latter. RBG’s confirmation hearings two decades ago were driven by Republican senators who wanted to know how she would keep her personal beliefs separate from her judicial rulings — which demonstrates folly on the part of public imagination that judges hand can and always will hand down decisions that are in line with their personal beliefs.
The judges came down 9-0 against the provision in question (which was about speech on public sidewalks; not to be confused with another provision of the same law which concerned knowingly obstructing/hindering a person approaching an abortion clinic). There was very little agreement within the ranks, with both Elena Kagan and RBG agreeing with the law in question during oral arguments. It all came down to an interpretation of First Amendment principles, and whether Massachusetts could use other measures (that were less of an infringement upon First Amendment) to achieve the same effect. I’m not used to the supremacy the US Constitution is given in courts, so cannot say any more on this point.
The court also didn’t overrule its 2000 decision approving buffer zones. This decision doesn’t mean all buffer zones are illegal; it just means that the legal status of current buffer zone laws are ambiguous and depend upon the time, manner and place in which they operate.
There are plenty of other things RBG’s done that are entirely questionable. Criticise her for the fact that in nearly 60 clerkship appointments, she didn’t hire a single African-American person. But I don’t think it’s entirely fair to blame her for a judicial decision that was constrained in manners beyond her control (i.e. the way the Constitution is virtually untouchable in the US legal system compared to other jurisdictions).
Am I disappointed that RBG, along with judges like Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor somehow came down on the same side of this as the conservative half the bench? Yes. Do I think supporting buffer zones around abortion clinics is a feminist thing to do? Fuck yes, and it has proven positive results for patients. But I also think that judges can be hamstrung into making decisions that go against their personal beliefs. Judicial decisions are not beyond reproach but these decisions are made within a matrix more complicated than “I support buffer zones around abortion clinics —> any law setting up a buffer zone around an abortion law is all g”.
If we’re criticising RBG, it’s disingenuous to think a single decision provides insight into the sort of person she is. She’s done questionable things outside of the courtroom, and these are valid grounds for criticism. Our legal systems hurt women. But judges are also pawns within these same systems — and are not always free to act as they believe.*
(* there is a longer rant here about the independence of the bench, activist judges and knowing subservience to a fucked up legal system but I don’t have the time/brainspace for it today.)
(Source: ihopeyoulikeblackberries, via anarchacannibalism)