Emil Guillermo: Every Asian American owes a debt to Ruth Bader Ginsburg
There should be an Asian American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
But at least Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was there for us.
For anyone concerned with justice and equality, we were lucky that Ginsburg was the doorstop when others tried to shut us all out.
Born 87 years ago in Brooklyn, New York, she was nicknamed “Kiki” as a child because as a baby she was “kicky.” In her life, she kicked open doors and kicked down barriers for women, minorities, and anyone on the fringe.
She was our guardian kicker.
Ginsburg was from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, which also happens to be the birthplace of two of the most significant influences in my life–my basketball coach and my English teacher. They were both Jewish and knew of life’s hardships, historical and present. And they were rebels (and one about the same size as Ginsburg) with a fighting spirit to right all wrongs as they yearned for justice.
My mentors didn’t have as keen a command of the 14th Amendment like Ginsburg did. She knew that equal protection under the law applied to all of us.
Ginsburg,spoke about the sexism she experienced at Harvard Law School. “How did it feel to be one of nine women in a class of over 500 men?” she asked in the documentary “RBG.” “You felt you were constantly on display. So if you were called on in class, you felt that if you didn’t perform well, you were failing not just for yourself but for all women. It also had the uncomfortable feeling that you were being watched.”
I wasn’t at the law school; I was at Harvard College in the 70s, I know what it’s like to be the only Filipino in the room, or the only Asian American, too many times, in Cambridge, and in most places I went in my career.
I’ve had people say to me, “You’ll never get that job.”
Ginsburg felt that sting.
“Not a law firm in the entire city of New York would employ me,” she said in the documentary “RBG.” When her friend, the lawyer and legal commentator Arthur Miller, lobbied for Ginsburg to one firm’s senior partner, Miller repeated the response he received: “Young man, you don’t seem to understand, this firm doesn’t hire women.”
Ginsburg saw how being female was an impediment. Her fight against prejudice and hypocrisy was a fight for all of us. Ginsburg helped society turn a corner not just on sexism, but on every issue where our rights were endangered. We mattered to her.
But now we’re already seeing the prejudice and hypocrisy rear up and play out as the Trumpian politicos look to erase Ginsburg from our memories.
Just as quickly as we can summon up our memorials, forces are at work to de-memorialize her by replacing her with another woman who has the beliefs and values of the 1950s.
I don’t expect to see a liberal nominee to assure a more balanced court. Why would anyone want what’s best for our country? But the hypocrisy will be clear as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators begin to ignore everything they said in 2016 when Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy after Antonin Scalia’s death, wasn’t even given a hearing.
The Republicans have the votes in the Senate. And they have Trump as a model, with his well over 20,000 lies and misleading statements in the last four years. It results in a kind of trickle-down political ethics–just follow Trump’s way where one’s word or the truth means little.
Trump did say he’ll nominate a woman, but it was Ginsburg’s desire to have the newly installed president appoint her replacement after the election. That could be either Trump or Biden, but Ginsburg was saying the people–through their vote–should decide.
It’s consistent, principled, and fair. It’s what Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood for.
Four senators are needed to block an attempt to force a nominee on us before the election (although voting has begun in states like Virginia). Two Senators, Murkowski and Collins, say they won’t go along with any forced replacement of Ginsburg. Are two others (possibly from among Romney, Gardner, or Grassley) brave enough to fill out a quartet of real patriots?
Let’s hope so or Ginsburg’s memorial will be to witness the disgrace of politics in which vanquished hypocrites so quickly ignore her wishes and work to undo her life and legacy.
As for what we can do to counter all that?
Simply follow what RBG would have done. This is our moment–in the name of equality, justice, and our democracy–to express our unwavering and steadfast dissent.