Thursday, April 4, 2019
Linda Greenhouse, Why R.B.G. Matters, NY Times
For the judicial icon otherwise known as R.B.G., Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s past few roller-coaster months have included being lionized by Hollywood, laid low by cancer surgery, and most recently issuing one of the Supreme Court term’s more important decisions, placing limits on civil forfeiture, within a day of returning to the bench. People who know almost nothing about the court and can’t name another justice know her name. In a celebrity-saturated age, she is one of the culture’s most unlikely rock stars.
Yet for all the accolades that have come her way, I’m willing to bet that among the most meaningful to her is one that doesn’t even mention her name. I’m referring to the decision last week by a federal district judge in Houston that declared the current male-only draft registration system to violate the constitutional requirement that the government treat men and women equally.
Justice Ginsburg’s influence shone through the spare and refreshingly direct 19 pages of Judge Gray H. Miller’s opinion. He held that the old arguments against registering (and theoretically drafting) women accepted by the Supreme Court when it last considered the question 38 years ago no longer apply now that women are welcomed by the military and eligible for all roles, including combat positions, for which they meet the sex-neutral qualifications.
As might be expected in a case dealing with women in the military, Judge Miller quoted liberally from Justice Ginsburg’s 1996 opiniondeclaring unconstitutional the exclusion of women from the state-supported Virginia Military Institute. Any justification for excluding one sex or the other “must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities or preferences of males and females,” Justice Ginsburg wrote in one passage Judge Miller cited.
What really caught my attention was how, beyond the V.M.I. references, Justice Ginsburg’s pre-judicial career is embedded throughout Judge Miller’s opinion, National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System. It’s not that Judge Miller directly cited many of the cases that the young lawyer Ruth Ginsburg won, and in which she methodically showed the nine men of the 1970s Supreme Court how to construct a jurisprudence of sex equality. Rather, he cited the cases that built on the cases that relied on Ruth Ginsburg’s Supreme Court victories. Reading his opinion is like opening a set of Russian dolls, each one nested inside the one that just opened.