Hart’s bi­og­ra­phy is in­com­plete por­trait of a pri­vate woman

Ruth Bader Gins­burg: A Life ably makes the case for Gins­burg’s iron will to suc­ceed and for her stand­ing as a bril­liant lawyer and ju­rist. By Mary Ann Gwinn

Gulf Times Community - - BOOK REVIEW -

These are fraught times for any­one con­cerned with the ide­o­log­i­cal bal­ance of the United States Supreme Court. With the ap­point­ment of right-lean­ing Brett Ka­vanaugh to a seat on the court, this new bi­og­ra­phy of lib­eral stal­wart Ruth Bader Gins­burg will be snatched up by those ea­ger to learn what makes RBG (as her ador­ing mil­len­nial fans call her) tick and to seek re­as­sur­ance that the 85-year-old Gins­burg can shore up the court’s em­bat­tled lib­eral mi­nor­ity. Ruth Bader Gins­burg: A Life ably makes the case for Gins­burg’s iron will to suc­ceed and for her stand­ing as a bril­liant lawyer and ju­rist, but it is an in­com­plete per­sonal por­trait of a very pri­vate woman. It’s an unau­tho­rised bi­og­ra­phy: Al­though Gins­burg agreed to six in­ter­views and made avail­able her le­gal files from her ca­reer as an Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union at­tor­ney, au­thor Jane Sher­ron De Hart had no ac­cess to any di­aries or per­sonal let­ters from Gins­burg’s early life. De Hart, pro­fes­sor emerita of his­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara, also re­veals that in 2008, in the mid­dle of the project, she lost her home, her re­search, and two com­pleted manuscripts of her writ­ings on Gins­burg in a Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire.

In a straight­for­ward, lin­ear chronol­ogy, De Hart lays down the tracks of Gins­burg’s life. Gins­burg was born in Brook­lyn in 1933 to mid­dle-class par­ents. They ad­mired and doted on their bril­liant daugh­ter and helped in­still in her the con­cept of re­pair­ing the world. Her mother, Celia Am­ster Bader, was the chief nur­turer; mother and daugh­ter were ex­traor­di­nar­ily close. It was a dev­as­tat­ing blow to Gins­burg when she lost her mother to can­cer just two days be­fore her high school grad­u­a­tion.

At Cor­nell, she ex­celled aca­dem­i­cally and met the love of her life, Martin Gins­burg. It was a love match for the ages; Marty, who would be­come a suc­cess­ful tax lawyer, sup­ported his wife at every turn; cooked gourmet din­ners for fam­ily, friends and col­leagues; and mounted a per­sonal Wash­ing­ton cam­paign to ad­vance his wife’s nom­i­na­tion to the US Supreme Court. His fam­ily’s rel­a­tive wealth en­sured that the busy cou­ple had the re­sources they needed to ex­cel.

Younger read­ers may be taken aback at the dis­crim­i­na­tion Gins­burg con­fronted as a young woman aim­ing for a ca­reer in the law. To gain ad­mis­sion to law school, she had to sur­mount re­stric­tive quo­tas for women

(10 per­cent of the slots in many schools); al­though she had a bril­liant record and a prodi­gious ap­petite for hard work, she could not find a job, hob­bled in part by her ‘small size, soft voice, youth­ful im­age and fem­i­nine ap­pear­ance.’ Only the in­ter­ven­tion of a Columbia Uni­ver­sity law school men­tor set her on her path with a key clerk­ship to a fed­eral ap­peals court judge.

De Hart’s nar­ra­tive is most re­veal­ing when she analy­ses Gins­burg’s work as a bril­liant le­gal strate­gist whose ad­vo­cacy ca­reer be­gan in earnest in 1972 when she helped found the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. From that point on, Gins­burg’s mis­sion was to bend the law to­ward equal rights, first as a lit­i­ga­tor, then as a fed­eral ap­peals court judge, and fi­nally as a US Supreme Court judge. De Hart dis­plays an im­pres­sive grasp of each area of Gins­burg’s le­gal in­flu­ence, from women’s rights to vot­ing rights to gay rights to im­mi­grant rights, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on strik­ing down laws that dis­crim­i­nated on the ba­sis of gen­der. Her eye was on equality, even as the court swung fur­ther to the right with each pass­ing decade.

De Hart’s fi­delity to de­tail in these mat­ters may frus­trate those hop­ing for more about Gins­burg’s pri­vate life. Her long and happy mar­riage, her love of opera, her abil­ity to forge friend­ships with ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­nents such as con­ser­va­tive Supreme Court jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, her strug­gles with her own can­cer and Marty’s, these sto­ries are in­spir­ing, but they of­fer few win­dows into the dark times that any hu­man soul must en­dure. Gins­burg is a warrior and does not show weak­ness eas­ily ‘she ab­so­lutely doesn’t for­give her­self,’ ob­served daugh­ter Jane. State­ments from friends and col­leagues are largely en­comi­ums. How­ever sin­cere, there’s a cer­tain dead­en­ing qual­ity to praise heaped on praise.

And what does Gins­burg think of the fu­ture of the court, and the coun­try? The book ends short of Ka­vanaugh’s ap­point­ment to the court, and Gins­burg is still very much on stage, so those ques­tions re­main unan­swered. A com­plete por­trait of her in­ner strug­gles, and the out­come of her very pub­lic ones, will have to wait for a fu­ture bi­og­ra­phy.– News­day/TNS

JU­RIST: Ruth Bader Gins­burg is an As­so­ciate Jus­tice of the Supreme Court of the United States and was ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and took the oath of of­fice on Au­gust 10, 1993.

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