A beautiful thing about this country is that anyone—whether they identify as a man, woman, Politico editor-at-large, or anything in between—is free to say essentially anything they want, regardless of whether it’s, you know, advisable.
One man who knows his constitutional rights is Peter Canellos, a respected investigative editor who bravely stepped forward Tuesday to give voice to what we’ve all apparently been thinking: the only reason anyone cares about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is Donald Trump.
“The Ruth Bader Ginsburg celebration, therefore, isn’t strictly about RBG at all; it’s about DJT,” Canellos says.
Interesting. Go on.
“With a president who knowingly sets himself up as an icon of one pole of American politics, it’s about picking (or even inventing) a rival icon to rally around—a way to rebel against a president who openly vows to fill the nation’s courtrooms with like-minded judges, most of them hostile to the concepts of due process and equal protection that liberals hold dear,” he concludes.
I’m going to go ahead and assume Nexus was down this week because there’s no other explanation for tying Ginsburg’s pop culture status, which was thriving as far back as 2013 when the owner of a Tumblr page titled “The Notorious RBG” parlayed it into a deal for a book reviewed in 2015 by the New York Times. So if it’s any specific president’s fault, let’s at least blame Obama the one time he deserves it.
I highly suggest reading the full essay, “Why We Should Worry About the Cult of RBG,” because it’s nice to laugh, but I’ll briefly summarize it here. To start, Canellos doesn’t think much of Ginsburg as a civil rights icon, though he begrudgingly admits, bless her heart, that she was a “pioneering women’s-rights attorney” who has spent her time on the bench growing elderly ever since.
Calling it an “inopportune moment to present a current Supreme Court justice as a political hero,” Canellos argues that by celebrating Ginsburg as the only thing standing between Trump and your right to an abortion, supporters of things like equal rights are tainting the independent judiciary. Case in point: The politicization of the court has resulted in “conservatives’ far more effective efforts to provide a support network for ‘their kind’ of justices—a movement so aggressive it handed Trump a list of approved high-court nominees before he was even elected president.”
That is a somewhat sensible observation! Until you read the full quote.
Anyone who was discomfited by the notion of ideologically supercharged young conservatives praising Scalia for creating a new individual right to bear arms should probably think twice before donning their RBG T-shirts at the next abortion-rights march—or bursting into applause at her next triumphant cinematic moment. These efforts to show popular support and approval for a heroic liberal judge might feel energizing for progressives, but they also remove any sense of stigma or impropriety from conservatives’ far more effective efforts to provide a support network for “their kind” of justices—a movement so aggressive it handed Trump a list of approved high-court nominees before he was even elected president.
Which is to say, this man believes that if they didn’t want Kavanaugh as a justice, they wouldn’t have worn that RBG t-shirt. Ginsburg, for what it’s worth, was confirmed to the Supreme Court 96-3; Kavanaugh, credibly accused of multiple instances of sexual assault and apparently unable to make it through a televised job interview without screaming, was confirmed 50-48. This is... Tumblr’s fault?
But let’s turn away from politics. The essay goes on to pan “On the Basis of Sex”—a movie about gender discrimination—by complaining it didn’t give enough screen time to her husband Martin, played by Armie Hammer. Canellos uses the word “extraordinary” once in the piece, and I’ll let you guess for yourself whether it modifies a man who “enjoyed cooking and parenting,” or a woman born in the 1930s who rose to the Supreme Court.
And he can’t exactly let Ruth have that, either! “Marty shrewdly campaigned for her Supreme Court nomination at a time when others felt that, at 60, she was too old for the appointment,” he writes. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s own personal history as a barrier-breaking civil rights lawyer and 13 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, on the other hand, apparently had very little to do with her nomination.
There is also the incredible complaint that the film should have focused more on the all-male panel of 10th Circuit judges who were even open to Ginsburg’s persuasion that gender discrimination is bad. Canellos writes:
There’s a further irony to the emergence of RBG as a political icon: She would never have succeeded in rooting out some of the double standards in American law had she not argued before some fair-minded, apolitical judges. In “On the Basis of Sex,” the male professors, law-firm partners and Justice Department attorneys are all irredeemably sexist and connive to preserve their privileges; the male federal judges, however, are not and do not. Though they’re lower-court judges, they’re portrayed by character actors resembling Earl Warren and William Brennan and other Republican appointees who turned out to be attuned to social change. When, at an appeals-court hearing, Ginsburg launches into a speech about the evils of sexism, the camera pans over their thoughtfully creased faces, absorbing her words like kindly grandfathers, while oboe music reminiscent of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” plays on the soundtrack. The judges are so clearly moved by Ginsburg’s arguments that her team is tearful with joy even before they issue their ruling.
“Unfortunately, this demonstration of judicial reasonableness, against all expectations, isn’t emphasized as a story line, even though it’s arguably more inspiring,” he really, honestly wrote.
(For what it’s worth, Ginsburg told Vanity Fair the movie was dead-accurate except for the courtroom scene, which shows her briefly at a loss for words before addressing the judges with her oral argument. She says she was not.)
Canellos does allow the movie “satisfies a yearning for a liberal heroine in a time of disappointment and cynicism,” and, “as a work of cinema, it paints a vivid picture of an era, now passing from memory, when women were completely, rigorously excluded from power.”
In that, he’s right: the era when women were completely and rigorously excluded from power is in fact very near in memory. Combing through this lament of the state of American jurisprudence, consider the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur: The thing speaks for itself.