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September 17, 2010

Justice Ginsburg at the National Conference on Citizenship

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (following the example of justices O'Connor, Souter, Breyer, and Scalia) is speaking at the National Conference on Citizenship. It's helpful for the Supreme Court--and the judicial branch in general--to endorse civic engagement and civic education. Judge Learned Hand was right: "Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it."

Justices O'Connor and Souter have made civic engagement a special priority in their retirements--more than speaking, they also organize and lead practical efforts--and Justice Breyer has written substantively about civic education. (Apparently, he addresses it in his new book.)

Today, Justice Ginsburg took a turn to address the topic. She used the "Impeach Earl Warren" campaign as an example of a time when people paid attention to the law and engaged, but in an ignorant way. Asked whether she was disturbed by public "ignorance" (the questioner's term, not hers), she said she was. She cited her own work litigating for equal rights. She said that the litigants who won important court victories for civil rights were ordinary people who understood their rights and the courts.

"The courts are reactive institutions. Why was Sally Reed's case before the Court in 1971? Because there was a women's movement. Why was there activity in the 50s and 60s? Because there was a burgeoning Civil Rights movement. The courts will react ..., not to the weather of the day, but to the climate of the era." I think her point was the importance of active citizenship in the process of reinterpreting and strengthening the law.

Justice Ginsburg argued that case law regarding gender is now quite fair and equitable. In that sense, an Equal Rights Amendment would not change our laws. But our Constitution, she noted, is older than other countries' and does not contain an explicit statement about gender equality that would be found in almost all other constitutions. "My granddaughters will not find that statement," she said, and "for that reason, I remain a partisan of the Equal Rights Amendment."

"If I could design an affirmative action program, it would be for men. It would give men every incentive to be an equal partner in raising the next generation."

Justice Ginsburg praised the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, which is now co-chaired by Justice O'Connor, and materials supported by the Annenberg Foundation. "There is an important job to be done to persuade school administrators to request these materials and use them in their classrooms."

September 17, 2010 11:58 AM | category: none



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