The senator stared down at the Supreme Court nominee, declaring, “I think we need to judge you as a total person.”
Are we talking brewskis, boofing and Beach Week here?
Come on, senator! They were just teens.
Oops, wait. This was Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) as he pressed Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
The big scandal during that hearing? The senators — nearly all of them men — had their pinstripes in a twist because of Ginsburg’s work on cases advocating women’s rights.
Kohl said he was “a little bit confused about the tension between the somewhat restrictive role you describe for judges and the much more dynamic role that you adopted as an advocate,” according to the hearing transcripts now catalogued in the Library of Congress.
Those were the good old days, when the juiciest mention in the 691 pages of testimony was Ginsburg’s confession that she liked the movie “Sleepless in Seattle.” Especially the soundtrack.
Before the Devil’s Triangle and beer became the vocabulary of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing thanks to sexual assault allegations against Trump nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, before the nominee spat questions back at senators so belligerently that it became fodder for a hilarious “Saturday Night Live” skit, before he teared up at the mention of his still-living father’s calendars, there was anxiety about the politicization of these appointments.
It began with the rejection of Reagan nominee Robert Bork in 1987 and went nuclear four years later when Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Thomas was confirmed anyway.
In September, before Kavanaugh’s 1982 “Tobin’s house working out” calendar entry became a topic of discussion, Ginsburg longed for the old days of debating Alexander Hamilton’s intent in the Federalist papers and the death penalty.
“The way it was, was right,” Ginsburg said in a Sept. 12 speech at George Washington University. “The way it is, is wrong,” she added.
Imagine what the women of the Supreme Court — Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — must be thinking as they watch the grueling and intellectually rigorous confirmation process they went through turn into a frat-house circus and Dark Ages debate on a woman’s veracity and virtue.
It took more than 200 years for the Supreme Court to achieve this paltry level of parity, three out of the current eight justices female.
Still, the mightiness of Ginsburg — who surely must be the most publicly celebrated of all the justices to sit on the court — is remarkable. At 85, the 5-foot-1-inch widow is a genuine, homegrown, full-blown Washington celebrity.
Monday happened to be the 25th anniversary of her investiture — a judges-only ceremony marking the seating of a new justice.
“We all look forward to sharing many more years with you in our common calling,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told Ginsburg as the court’s new session began Monday. She smiled, according to The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes, but did not respond.
Public sightings of Ginsburg, who has her own action figure and nickname, the Notorious RBG, ripple across Twitter. Fans try to take selfies, but her bodyguard usually stops them. There are two — yes, two — biopics about her in theaters across the country this year. She’s on T-shirts, license plates (RBG4ever) and even a popular tattoo. (She said she’s a little wigged out by the tattoo.)
But her path to power stands in complete contrast to Kavanaugh and most other men who sit on the federal bench.
It’s safe to say that Ginsburg did not play Devil’s Triangle — whether it’s defined as a threesome or a drinking game — in her Brooklyn public high school.
Yes, Ginsburg’s yearbook page has some similarities to Kavanaugh’s.
They were both treasurers. He of the “Keg City Club.” She of the “Go-Getters.”
Kavanaugh played football at tony Georgetown Prep. Ginsberg twirled a baton at the less-exalted James Madison High School football games.
She played cello in the school orchestra, was features editor of the school newspaper, secretary for the English department and a devout Nancy Drew fan.
What wasn’t in Ruth Bader’s Class of 1950 yearbook profile? Her mother’s battle with cancer during those high school years and the awful fact that her mother died the day before young Ruth’s graduation.
Or that she grew up regularly seeing signs that said “No dogs, No Jews.”
Those weren’t even Ginsburg’s most extraordinary years.
She graduated at the top of her class in Cornell, then took time off to follow her husband for his career and had a child. She returned to school as a mom, one of only nine women enrolled in Harvard Law, all of whom were greeted by a dean who gathered them together to ask how they felt about taking a position from a man.
She again followed her husband to New York City, continuing law school at Columbia, where she graduated first in her class and couldn’t get a job anywhere because she was a woman. She was told to apply for secretarial jobs. She didn’t, choosing academia instead.
This is what “busting my butt” really means, not Kavanaugh’s beer-soaked, beach party version of hard times.
We haven’t even covered raising two children, helping a husband through his own bout of cancer (writing his papers, her papers, putting the kids to bed), conquering her own cancer twice, and then surviving the death of that loving and supportive husband.
Oh yeah, and working on scores of landmark cases for the American Civil Liberties Union, then spending more than a decade being the consensus builder and moderate on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit alongside Bork and Antonin Scalia.
That is what a Supreme Court justice should look like.
Still think we should keep talking about boofing?
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