They’re both women. And that’s pretty much the extent of the commonality between the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Amy Coney Barrett, the woman now believed most likely to succeed her.
By the time Ginsburg, aka the Notorious RBG, died on Friday, aged 87, she had become a pop culture icon. A liberal firebrand and tireless campaigner for equal rights, her impact on today’s America cannot be underestimated, and her loss has electrified an already divided country, turning this year’s election into a battle for the next 30 to 40 years of American justice.
In the countless obituaries and tributes paid to Justice Ginsburg in the last six days, one figure looms almost as large as she – her husband, Marty. While great women are all too often described in relation to the men they marry, in Ginsburg’s case, the partnership appears to have been an incredibly progressive one, RBG herself crediting her husband with securing her ascent to the Supreme Court.
Describing her husband as “by far the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me”, the couple’s marriage of equals has become the stuff of legend. “Marty was a most unusual fellow,” Ginsburg famously said. “He was the only boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain.”
This egalitarian approach seems particularly relevant now, as the world pours over biographies of Amy Coney Barrett, the woman Trump is widely expected to nominate as Ginsburg’s successor this Saturday.
Who is Amy Coney Barrett?
Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a constitutionalist, Catholic mother-of-seven, whose pro-life stance has amplified fears that the GOP’s hasty and hypocritical push to fill Ginsburg’s still warm seat will create a Conservative court eager to row back women’s reproductive rights.
That Barrett is also pro-gun and anti-gay marriage only adds to liberals’ fears, along with the fact she belongs to a religious group, People of Praise, which believes women should be obedient to their husbands. Until 2018, senior female members of the church were referred to as handmaids – a term only dropped following the release of Hulu TV series The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the dystopian 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood.
That same year, Barrett became a household name in the US as a candidate for the associate justice position later filled by Brett Kavanaugh. “I’m saving her for Ginsberg,” Trump reportedly said at the time.
Now, as Ginsburg’s body lies in repose at the Supreme Court she served for 27 years, it seems that prediction is coming to pass. Among Democrats, talk of how to respond to such an appointment has become yet another defining issue of the election campaign – everything from increasing the size of the court’s bench to amending state boundaries to tip the balance back is now under discussion.
Whatever potential solutions the Democrats alight on, one thing is clear. The U in USA looks increasingly more pipedream than reality.
“My American Dream has become an American Nightmare”
British-born, San Francisco based broadcaster and writer, Isabel Duffy, shares her thoughts on living through the most divisive American election in living memory – and questions whether her long term future now ultimately lies elsewhere…
As a British transplant to San Francisco, I didn’t know anything about RBG before I moved here, and she didn’t really register on my radar until Obama’s administration, in particular with the upholding of the Affordable Care Act.
The book, Notorious RBG, and movie, On the Basis of Sex, were my education, and I, like every child in an RBG costume on Halloween, was awed by her achievements and tenacity. This week, as we commiserated over a few too many glasses of wine in the wake of her death, I asked my friends if her appointment was a big deal back in 1993. Surprisingly, they all said no, it wasn’t – mainly because Sandra Day O’Connor had already been appointed as the first woman to serve on the court in 1981.
Instead, the overwhelming impression RBG made on my friends was that of being a principled pragmatist who, although she was a liberal judge appointed by a Democrat, was driven to find consensus across the court. Her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia was somewhat surprising but mostly reassuring, my friends insisted. In the past, just as Clinton and Bush became friends, politics didn’t divide the country in the way it does today.
Now, our biggest fear as women, and as mothers of girls, is that Trump will opt to appoint someone determined to overturn Roe v Wade. It feels bad enough that we already live in a country where organisations such as The Brigid Alliance need to exist to help women access abortions in an environment increasingly hostile towards them. But the threat of women’s reproductive rights being further curtailed is of profound concern.
Trump’s most likely nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, is pro-life and pro-gun, both very worrying positions for liberal parents of school-age children. But the overwhelming feeling among my friends is that politics is dirtier than ever, that principles seem to have been abandoned, that under Trump, the Republicans’ moral compass is spinning wildly, making a balance of six-three on the Supreme Court unpalatable at best.
The result, sadly, is that many of my American friends are looking for ways to leave the US. Passports and visas are being investigated all the time, the discussion of exit strategies suddenly urgent and vital, whether as a temporary means to avoid COVID and a potential second term for Trump, or as a more permanent escape from a country they no longer recognise.
Increasingly, I find myself extremely grateful to have a British passport. But I am sad that the American Dream seems to be turning into an American Nightmare. I have planted roots here, own property here and have dear friends here. I might be British, but my kids are American.
Living here happily for close to 20 years has granted me the opportunity to try things I never would have in England. I live in one of the best cities in the world, and I can still get teary driving over the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. But in California today, that bridge is barely visible amid smoke-filled skies. And as we face up to raging wildfires, a pandemic and a climate change-denying president, I’ve found myself wondering whether this really is home for good.
I’m trying to retain my hope that the electorate will do the right thing in November, but I’m haunted by memories of being in London to visit my mother in ICU when Brexit was passed. At the time, I made a joke along the lines of, ‘Whatever next? Boris and Trump?’ It seemed so unlikely at the time. Today, not much can surprise me.
So, I continue to write postcards. I join texting chains for swing states. But mostly, I keep my passport close, and my fingers crossed that the America I’ve come to call home can come back from the brink.