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Enjoying the benefit offered to seniors by the Broadway Cinema circuit, I saw an excellent movie on the morning of 27 Mar 19, at a paltry cost of $20. It‘s called "On the Basis of Sex", and is the real-life story of a truly outstanding person -- Ruth Bader Ginsberg(RBG), one of the 8 Associate Justices of the US Supreme Court.
There was a line in the movie, "the court is not influenced by the weather of the day, but by the climate of the era". In Chinese,時移世易。Both the movie & the documentary depict the course of career of RBG with the changing of times over six decades. Reading between the lines, it makes one wonder which begets which.
When RBG was admitted into Cornell in 1950, only 20% were girls, a F:M ratio of 1:4. It was even more astounding when she got into Harvard Law School, a mere 9 women in a class of 500. The Dean held a "welcome" dinner for these minority, but actually humiliated them by demanding them to explain why they had taken the valuable places that should have belonged to men. RBG was top of the class in both Cornell & Harvard. Despite her brilliant academic results, she could not find a job as a lawyer at New York which employed the largest number of lawyers in the US, being told in the face that just because she was a woman.
RBG continued to excel in her career as a law professor and litigator, in some cases partnering with the ACLU (American Civil Liberty Union), advocating equality of genders. She won 5 out of 6 cases at the US Supreme Court, a highly distinguished feat.
In 1993, when Clinton nominated RBG to the Supreme Court which was confirmed by the Senate 96:3, she became the second female Associate Justice. Not the highest approval margin, which was held by Sandra Day OConnor -- the first ever female Justice on the Supreme Court, but a far cry from that of the latest vote of 50:48 for Brett Kavanaugh.
The documentary mentions near the end that the Liberal camp, ie people sharing the ideology of RBG, urged her to retire while Obama was president. The rationale was that another liberal judge could be nominated by Obama & confirmed by the Senate, and that the one who would replace her can serve another two or three decades. In his 8 years of presidency, Obama only successfully nominated 2 liberal judges to the highest bench. Trump in his first 2 years already achieved the same result, and probably will tilt the balance much further to the right in his remaining 6 years (do pray with me that Trump will win a second term).
There are so many people, or too many people -- especially those who consider themselves educated and US-philic, who believe in the separation of power into 3 INDEPENDENT branches, viz, administration, legislature & judiciary. But at least for the US, nothing can be further from the truth. The 3 branches are very much intertwined rather than independent of each other. The best case in illustrating such is the process of nomination of the Supreme Court justices. The gist of the matter is that the tenure is for life or the judge voluntarily retires. It is amongst the political agenda of US presidents to nominate judges of the same ideology to the Supreme Court whenever vacancy occur either due to death or voluntary retirement of sitting judges. The Common Law system is one which interpretation of stature, some old and overtaken by events and some too broadly/vaguely worded, matters most. Value or belief of the judges is the basis of their individual interpretation of the case under their jurisdiction. People vote for the politicians who share their ideology. The elected either become the legislature or the executive, such as the President, Governors, or mayors. But the judiciary is independent only to the extent that the judges successfully nominated to the bench may out-live the executive and the legislature who installed them. Nomination of Supreme Court judges is nothing other than a political tug of war between the 2 political parties. So, how can the judiciary be perceived to be independent ?
RBG was hugely successful while she was a part-time litigator in winning so many of her cases at the Supreme Court. Yet, after her ascension to the Supreme Court, she has frequently been the dissenting voice, just because most of the time there are more conservative judges nominated by Republican presidents than liberal ones by Democrat presidents.
To say RBG is a larger-than-life character is an under-statement. She is literally a phenomenon. Despite, or should we say because of, all her achievements in gender equality, including her breaking the glass ceilings above her time and again, many of her fans and followers have a very common mis-conception. What RBG fought for and mostly won, was equal opportunity for the gender. When she was admitted into Harvard law school, there were 9 girls in a class of 500. When her granddaughter graduated from Harvard law school in 2017, male : female was exactly 50:50. This is a rare case which equality exists in outcome as well as opportunity. As was mentioned in the films, will there be the same number of male & female firefighters one day, or nurses ? Take another example, at the Macau Grand Prix 2018, there was for the very first time a female driver in the F3 Race. She became all the more famous that she had a horrific accident. But the phrase "woman driver 女人揸車" is not just a stereotype statement. Even when a female becomes a Formula 1 World Champion one day, will there be the same number of male/female drivers in the starting grid ?
Whether for gender, race, or whatever the biological or social differences, equal opportunity will never mean equal outcome. The latter, unfortunately, a mis-conception that was too deeply ingrained in a not insubstantial portion of people in the western world today.
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