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The Lego-cy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The politicization of the Supreme Court cuts both ways

January 22, 2019

11:06 AM

22 January 2019

11:06 AM

You don’t need to know much about constitutional jurisprudence to work out which of the nine Supreme Court Justices has been turned into a mini figure to appear in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.

No, not Brett Kavanaugh. You know by now there can be only one candidate for the role of bad-guy-slaying superjudge in 2019. ‘Batman, Superman, the Tin Man… and Ruth Bader Ginsburg,’ runs the superhero role call in a trailer that dropped on Sunday.

After last year’s RBG documentary and this year’s On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones, it is just the latest (and least likely) addition to the Ginsburg movie canon and yet another chance for her fans to celebrate her life and achievements.

Maybe it is harmless entertainment or a deserved tribute to a woman who broke barriers to reach the pinnacle of her profession.

Can you imagine anyone saying that if it really were Kavanaugh rather than a doughty 85-year-old?

No, the fan adulation carries us another step towards the complete politicization of the Supreme Court. By consenting to her gavel-wielding likeness appearing in cartoon superhero form, Ginsburg cements her mythology and ends forever the quaint notion that justices should avoid even the appearance of cultivating personal followings.

The politicization of the Supreme Court is, of course, nothing new. Presidents who base their appointments on ideological criteria and the adversarial confirmation process have long meant pragmatic, rational, objective legal brains are labeled ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ by the time they arrive on the bench. Since 2010, those labels have coincided with the party in the White House.

At the same time, justices – such as the late Antonin Scalia – have become more visible public speakers. Ginsburg has been willing than anyone to take on political causes, from the NFL knee protests to the rise of Donald Trump.

She joked in 2016 that a Trump win would have had her late husband saying it was time to move to New Zealand. A year later she blamed Hillary Clinton’s election defeat on sexism. Hardly becoming of a figure supposed to be above anything as petty as party politics.

She may have apologized for some of her comments, but that has not stopped her becoming a folk heroine and icon of the anti-Trump resistance, lionized by the Left and merchandized by almost everyone.

A recent Politico survey of RBG paraphernalia on Amazon tallied up four biographies, five children’s books, a coloring book, an action figure, a notebook, a pillow and a workout book.

And so the movies celebrate not just her trailblazing route into the law, becoming the second female Supreme Court justice, or her considerable intellect or skill in drafting opinions. They celebrate a phenomenon and a force. They mark the arrival of a cultural presence.

To take a recent review of On The Basis of Sex at random, consider this from the Chicago Tribune: ‘The tiny and tenacious 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a bright spot and one last symbol of decency during a political landscape fraught with crime, corruption and collusion.’

All very exciting for progressives. But it is just the flip side of a coin that saw conservatives throw their weight behind Kavanaugh during his bitter confirmation battle. It is a reminder that the politicization of the Supreme Court cuts both ways and that it began long before Trump was in the White House.

The danger, identified by liberals only after Kavanaugh was installed, is that justices with a political following and an identified public come under pressure to please their supporters. Remember how the Left fretted that the newest justice had it in for them after the way he was questioned and condemned about those sexual assault allegations? Will they ever stop to wonder what impact their adulation has on one of their own?

Of course, Ginsburg is a jurist of the highest order, capable of divorcing her work from her chat show appearances. But she is human too with all the flaws and foibles that come with that. Separating Supreme Court justices from their public has long been the best way of insulating them from the pressures of popular sentiment.

Those days may be gone but turning them into official Lego figurines to tie in with a movie seems to belittle all of us.


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