Much of the news recently has been about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. First, there was news of her death, and, within a few days, President Trump announced he would nominate someone to fill her seat. That prompted headlines about an earlier vacancy on the court prior to another presidential election.
Then, the Senate failed to pass a nonbinding resolution to honor Ginsburg after disagreeing on the wording. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the issue in question was insignificant. I’m just pointing out that our elected officials (on both sides) couldn’t agree on enough words to honor her without having a fight.
We can all get along
In the many remembrances and obituaries about Justice Ginsburg, there are almost always references to her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. This friendship is remarkable, according to the authors, because the two were so often on opposite sides of the cases they considered. How could Scalia and Ginsburg get along when they had “vastly different views on the Constitution and the role of the court”?
After some glowing sentiments about how they shared a love of opera and rose above their differences, the reader is reminded that this possibility exists for all of us, especially our leaders in government. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could just get along, despite our differences?
That all sounds great, I suppose, if you’re writing a Hallmark card.
But it doesn’t describe their friendship. Shortly after Scalia’s death in 2016, Irin Carmon (one of Ginsburg’s biographers) recalled an occasion when Ginsburg was grateful to Scalia for giving her his written dissent before she published a majority opinion (which she wrote for the court). Reading it, she said, made her own work “ever so much better.”
After her death, Scalia’s son, Eugene, cautioned us against taking a lesson of “achieving consensus and harmony” from their friendship. Instead, he said, remember that they really disagreed, but respected each other for “arriving at their own opinions thoughtfully and advancing them vigorously.”
So, if you want a Hallmark card about their friendship, it’s going to sound something like this: “Thank you for being a friend and telling me all the ways you think I’m wrong. My arguments have gotten so much better because I’ve had to respond to your enthusiastic yet wrongheaded ideas. By the way, you’re still wrong. Love ya!”
Let’s agree to disagree…about the right things
If we’re committed to building a free society, we’ll sometimes be obliged to disagree respectfully and vigorously with what others do and say. That disagreement may be uncomfortable but it helps us refine our arguments and articulate our positions, even if it doesn’t resolve our differences.
In our latest episode of the Civil Squared Podcast, Stephanie Slade, the managing editor of Reason Magazine, is very publicly disagreeing with a number of conservative thinkers and their ideas. She has great respect for conservative principles and, out of respect for those principles, she’s raising concerns. You’ll find a link to the podcast (and Stephanie’s New York Times op-ed) below, along with links to stories on Justice Ginsburg’s life and friendship with Scalia. I hope these links remind you that, when you believe strongly in a principle or an idea, friends can and should (respectfully) tell friends they are wrong.
5 links worth your time
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18th, The Economist – In this obituary, The Economist looks at Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s ability to separate her personal opinions from her legal ones. She was not afraid to disagree or stand out, but she recognized that both required clarity and confidence.
- Senate Resolution Honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg Fails Over Inclusion Of Her Dying Wish, Forbes – Forget replacing Justice Ginsburg. The Senate couldn’t even agree on the wording of a resolution honoring her. Senate Democrats asked that her dying wish be included in the resolution. Republicans accused Democrats of trying to turn a “bipartisan resolution into a ‘partisan resolution.’”
- What made the friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg work, The Washington Post – In the days following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, Irin Carmon, a co-author of a biography on Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalls how Justice Ginsburg appreciated Justice Scalia’s disagreements with her because, even though they didn’t persuade her, they helped her sharpen her own arguments.
- What we can learn from Ginsburg’s friendship with my father, Antonin Scalia, The Washington Post – In the days following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Justice Scalia’s son, Eugene, cautions us not to view their friendship as encouragement to “be more civil, and achieve consensus [and] harmony.” Strong friendships can endure debate and disagreement without diminishing either.
- Republicans Are Ripping Out ‘the Very Heart and Soul’ of Their Party, The New York Times – Stephanie Slade, the managing editor of Reason and our guest on the Civil Squared Podcast this week, raises concerns about the direction of the Republican Party and the ideology of conservatism. She worries that the Republican party is moving away from the libertarianism that Ronald Reagan called “the very heart and soul of conservatism.”
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