The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was considered a champion for women’s rights and liberal policies but how much of a supporter was she for Black Americans?
Some Supreme Court followers think she might have been more foe than friend to Black people in America.
She was often praised for her bold stances. Former President Bill Clinton, for example, described Justice Ginsburg as the “Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law,” comparing her to the Supreme Court’s first African American justice.
Ginsburg had a history regarding racial justice. Before being selected for the Supreme Court, her legal career often overlapped with racial justice issues. For example, in 1973, Ginsburg co-represented Nial Ruth Cox in a federal lawsuit. Cox was a Black woman who was forcibly sterilized by a state-run eugenics program in North Carolina and sought to declare the program unconstitutional. The court declared the case moot since the program was no longer in effect. But the Cox case illustrated how Ginsburg’s advocacy for women simultaneously affected people of color, according to a report in The Battalion, the student newspaper of Texas A&M University.
Despite this, her career was stained by comments she made that many would deem racist. Here are three things you should know.
1. Bashed Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest
After Katie Couric interviewed Justice Ginsburg, the veteran journalist admitted that she had edited out Ginsburg’s comments against NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to “protect her.”
In her book, “Going There,” Couric admits that she edited the words of then-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to soften the liberal justice’s criticism of Colin Kaepernick, The Independent reported.
Couric omitted Ginsburg’s criticism of Kaepernick and other Black athletes who were protesting police brutality and racism. Ginsburg accused the Black protesters of having “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life.”
That “decent life” could not have been lived “in the places they came from,” the justice reportedly said, according to Couric. Ginsburg reportedly added that the various participants in the protest would “realize that this was youthful folly” as they grow older.
2. Advocacy not action
Ginsburg defended the Voting Rights Act or VRA of 1965 (which prohibited racial discrimination in voting) in the 2013 Supreme Court Case Shelby County v. Holder. The court voted 5-4 to remove independent oversight for states with a history of suppressing the votes of Black people. Ginsburg dissented, disagreeing with the majority opinion.
In her dissent, Ginsburg said that the struggle for equal voting rights is ongoing, and some states will continually attempt to prevent racial minorities from voting.
But what “is most disappointing about Ginsburg’s record on race is that she mostly confined it to advocacy,” wrote Caleb Powell, a columnist for The Batallion in 2020. “Ginsburg significantly advanced women’s rights in several substantive ways. In contrast, the Cox case, amicus brief, and VRA rollback indicate Ginsburg was less influential in promoting racial equality.”
3. Poor record on hiring Black clerks
Ginsburg might be remembered as a progressive icon, but the Notorious RBG wasn’t very progressive in the hiring of her law clerks. She hired one African American law clerk in her 25 years on the Supreme Court. During her 13-year tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Ginsburg hired 57 clerks, interns, and secretaries. Not one was Black. When this issue was raised during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1993, Ginsburg said, “If you confirm me for this job, my attractiveness to Black candidates is going to improve.”
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