US News was rocked this weekend by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The long-time Supreme Court Justice was loved and admired by many, not only by those on “the left” for her political viewpoints but by others from all political perspectives, because of the way she carried herself with those whom she disagreed.
Because we live such a hyper-political environment, where no one can say anything without someone filtering it through their preferred political slant and (over)reacting accordingly, it was refreshing to read of the way the late-RBG and the late-Antonin Scalia got along while serving on the Supreme Court. RBG was, very famously, a progressive who pushed the court to side with leftist decisions. Scalia, on the other hand, was what those on the right affectionally call a “strict Constitutionalist.” He advocated for an unwavering interpretation of the 200+ year old text as the guiding document of the country.
As you can imagine, the two of them had little to get along about.
And yet, they did. The two were described as “close friends” who often talked for hours after work was done. I read a remembrance posted by someone who worked as a law clerk for her, and one summary of her character stood out…
“She could fight with the best of them—but I never heard or saw or even intimated anything other than respect and even, often, affection for her adversaries in these battles. No snide remarks, no nasty innuendoes, none of that. She valued civility and collegiality very, very highly, and I think she helped to dignify the process of judging, and helped make those she was working with better as a result.”
RBG lived by the edict that disagreement should not be a sword we use to wound our enemies, but a podium we use to debate them. She believed in fighting for her opinions, but not in forcing them on people. Instead she wanted to convince people of them. As she said in one famous quote of hers that has circulated since her passing…
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you”
I might have disagreed with her political positions but I can at least appreciate her attitude when it comes to settling a dispute. As Christians we should understand this. Solomon warns us that angry feelings that stir up a hornet’s nest will only end in sin (Proverbs 29:22). The wise man also encourages us to think before we speak, because it’s the wicked person who blathers on with evil words before he realizes the trouble he’s gotten himself into (Proverbs 15:28). And then there’s the words of Paul…
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
You don’t have to agree with the legal opinions of RBG to appreciate how right she was about how she handled her adversaries. She was a rare bird in Washington; a person who disagreed with a smile, and seemed genuine about it, too.
Let that be her legacy.