I just signed up to be a mentor at my law school, and did something that is atypical for me: Display a preference for female law students. It even surprises me when I look at that sentence, since my entire career as a columnist has been dedicated to the proposition that gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and all of the other epidermal things that form our identity are less important than the intangibles of brain, values, heart and capacity for endurance.
But the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a compelling and transformational impact on me. So did the identity of her replacement, Amy Coney Barrett.
The people who were angry that Donald Trump would replace Ginsburg now tried to hide behind words like “hypocrisy” and “Merrick Garland” and “let the people choose,” but the truth is that they don’t want Trump making an even bigger impact on the court than he already has. Coney Barrett would do that. The truth is they don’t want the president appointing someone who might vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Coney Barrett might do that. The truth is that they are petrified of a Trumpian majority. Coney Barrett would increase that.
And that’s okay, because I was appalled at the choice of Sonya Sotomayor, felt betrayed by David Souter, thought William Brennan was a dangerous little leprechaun of Warren Court orthodoxy, cannot pronounce the name “Harry Blackmun” without nearly choking and thought that Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for rights I never asked for.
I kept hearing people praising this great defender of “women’s rights” and “civil rights” with the same tired language, the tropes of “reproductive freedom” and “choice” and to take a phrase from her own mouth, “taking [men’s] feet off of our necks.” And that annoyed me, because I felt that the man who slammed his foot with the most power and hostility on “our necks” was the man who wrote the opinion legalizing the destruction of 50% of our future population, women “in utero.”
Coney Barrett will oppose that.
I think that you can be pro-life, as I am, and admire the strength of a woman like Ginsburg, who really was the Thurgood Marshall of the women’s movement. However, there is a difference: Marshall was fighting mightily against the dehumanization of an entire race of people. Ginsburg was fighting in a sense for the dehumanization of what she considered “potential people” and what I consider women, inches away from having rights. And, as she herself once noted, Marshall risked being killed for his advocacy. Ginsburg just risked having nasty opeds like this one written about her.
And so I am one woman who, while acknowledging the exceptional role the late justice has played in our jurisprudence, does not welcome her doppelganger on the court. For that reason alone, I am overjoyed that the president has chosen Amy Coney Barrett, a fierce advocate for women’s rights. The women she advocates for are those who believe that dignity is inherent and innate, not conveyed by a society or a legal framework that is willing to ignore biology. We are here, alive, speaking for those who cannot.
And despite what some Ginsburg supporters think, we are also speaking out for many other women who have been dispossessed, immigrant women, victims of domestic violence, abandoned children. That is not just a “progressive” thing, and we do care about the lives of these women after they are born. Suggestions that we are simply “pro-birth” is-to paraphrase Shakespeare-sound and fury, signifying whining.
Coney Barrett has seven children, one who has Downs syndrome, two others who are international adoptees. She has a deep and unwavering attachment to her Catholic faith. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein helpfully noted a few years ago, the dogma lives “loudly” in her. She is universally considered to be brilliant, graduating first in her class at Notre Dame Law School. As an aside, how sublime would it be to finally have a non-Ivy elevated to the court?
And she is, quite obviously, a woman. Some would say she is not the right kind of woman. They are the same people who bent over in agony when the great “woman’s rights advocate” passed away last week. I honor their grief, and understand it. I am not her to mock or undermine their very sincere feelings of loss.
But when they take a momentary break from mourning, they should understand this: There are many ways to honor and fight for women. Confirming this scholar, jurist, mother, woman of faith and dedicated advocate for the “least of these” is one of them. Not only that, it’s necessary for the next generation of women who might not see themselves reflected in the mighty but controversial figure of RBG.