Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court in United States v. Virginia et al. Certiori to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Excerpts of that opinion comprise the selection from Ginsburg in Available Means. As a legal opinion, it has a certain form to follow. The rhetoric must be precise and lay the argument out step by step, citing other cases to establish the precedents upon which the current decision rests.

Within that form, there is room for personality and, to an extent, personal opinion. Although Ginsburg is delivering the opinion of the majority, and is therefore writing more of a composite document than one that is singularly hers, there are still ways that she can use even the formal language of the law to express somewhat more. For example, when she provides examples of "self-fulfilling prophec[ies]" (475) that were "once routinely used to deny rights or opportunities" (475), she quotes cases and reports that, by modern standards, sound absurd, such as:
[t]he faculty . . . never maintained that women could not master legal learning. . . . No, its argument has been . . . more practical. If women were admitted to the Columbia Law School, [the faculty] said, then the choicer, more manly and red-blooded graduates of our great universities would go to the Harvard Law School! (476)
I find the exclamation point to be especially amusing, as well as use of manly and red-blooded. Ginsburg manages to ridicule past attitudes, if gently. 

The case in question regarded whether women should be allowed to attend the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a public military college in the state of Virginia. The decision agreed with a 4th Circuit ruling that excluding women violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, but disagreed that the specially created women's version of the VMI program adequately addressed the inequality. 

I have, perhaps, more than average familiarity with the arguments of the law. I do not have the experience of taking classes in law or attending law school, but both my father and my uncle are lawyers. Legal rhetoric could and would be used to adjudicate family disputes, although, of course, my dad usually held veto power. I appreciate the thoroughness of the argument laid out by Ginsburg, and would be interested to see the entire decision, though I would guess that the removed pieces are layers that the editors of Available Means decided would be too lengthy for their anthology. 

In the biographical information on Ginsburg, the editors write that she is "criticized by some for her judicial restraint and by others for her judicial activism; she has been praised as a liberal feminist and attacked by feminists for being too conservative" (471). Therein lies the perennial problem of the woman. No matter what she does, others see fit to judge her lacking, and with none of the careful arguments required by legal decisions. 

No comments:

Post a Comment