Opinion: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Lighter than a Feather

By Peter Cherry

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month led to non-stop coverage of tributes from sections of the liberal bourgeoisie in the Democratic Party. Ginsburg has been lauded as a ‘progressive’ who has been responsible for the gains of women toward legal equality, but her life in service to the reactionary US imperialist state makes the significance of her death lighter than a feather.

The US Supreme Court is an unelected body of judges that exists to ensure the property relations and legality of capitalist class rule is not disrupted, based on the archaic legal framework of the US constitution. It has sometimes functioned to pass specific concessions over time as people have risen up, meeting social anger and opposition with superficial rulings that never fully guarantee the people their rights. Any ‘progressive’ rulings are meant to smooth over the reactionary nature of capitalist society when the threat of rebellion looms over the horizon, but these laws themselves are tenuously maintained, depending on the needs of the bourgeoisie at any given moment.

Far from being a progressive icon, Ginsburg said that the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision went “too far, too fast,” revealing herself throughout time as being an unreliable bourgeois ally for abortion rights. Ginsburg joined all other justices in 2014 to rule for qualified immunity to the police officers that murdered Donald Rickard and Kelly Allen, and years later when Colin Kaepernick started his kneeling protest at NFL games, Ginsburg told an interviewer that his demonstration against police violence was “really dumb.”

Ginsburg has historically served U.S. imperialism very closely, expanding the doctrine of qualified immunity to murderous police who are not full-time employees, and in 2017, she likewise permitted Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban to be passed.

In 2012, Ginsburg traveled to Egypt on behalf of the State Department to meet with the US-armed and supported military junta that had been installed after the mass protests that deposed Hosni Mubarak. Over the following years, nearly 700 death sentences were handed down to various protesters who had opposed the new junta.

Ginsburg’s earlier legal advocacy as part the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is touted by some as where she began her ‘fight’ against the oppression of women. In this work, Ginsburg litigated around important cases of legalized discrimination related to sex, subscribing to the belief that sexism could be undone legally. Under US imperialism, women are mainly oppressed because of their relation to production, and the sexist laws which have been repealed have only allowed a minority of women to join the minority of men in the ruling class. By making the law of an inherently unequal society seem more ‘equal,’ Ginsburg was upholding the political system that keeps the majority of women down.

One such case was the “Head and Master law,” which allowed only men to have all control over marital property. This was not repudiated by the Supreme Court until 1981. 

The endpoint of Ginsburg’s life has meant little for working class women, with her rulings mostly having the significance of permitting some women to join the ranks of the police and imperialist armed forces, and other being able to become capitalists and exploiters of the people. For this small minority of women, Ginsburg’s death represents the possible reversal of such gains. 

The Democratic Party will allow a Senate vote on Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s pick to replace Ginsburg and a conservative jurist who is committed to rolling back abortion rights. It is the hope of Trump and Republican Party leadership that their majority in the Senate will permit Barrett’s quick ratification. While liberals will moan and claim that a Democrat would choose someone who would preserve what basic rights women and the people are currently allotted, it was Ginsburg’s ultimate belief in the US imperialists’ backwards judicial system that preserved her seat for her successor, and whether she presides from the bench or is in her grave, she is just as much to blame for the further reactionization to come.

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