When ‘RBG’ Dissed Kaepernick And Black America

Written by Dana Sanchez

The hero-worshipping of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — a.k.a. “Notorious R.B.G.” — is reaching a crescendo, and she has earned some of the adulation, but she has also made mistakes.

“Maybe, just maybe, the left should tone it down” when it comes to adoring Ginsburg, wrote Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law at UC Irvine School of Law, in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece.


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A movie about Ginsburg, “On The Basis Of Sex,” was released Christmas Day, following the documentary “RBG,” which premiered on CNN in May 2018.

“Forget movie stars,” Entertainment Weekly wrote in January 2018. “The hottest celebrity at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

In many respects, Ginsburg is a judicial hero, Hasen wrote. “She was the leading lawyer for women’s rights before she joined the bench. She has spoken forcefully and authoritatively for the liberal wing of the court on abortion rights, voting rights and affirmative action. She has been remarkably transparent about issues related to her health and age. And she hasn’t been afraid to admit, publicly, when she has made a mistake.”

One of those mistakes happened in 2016 when Ginsburg called out former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. That form of protest was “dumb,” “disrespectful” and “ridiculous” RBG said. She later apologized.

That’s the problem with celebrity justice. In the last few decades, justices have become more visible and iconic, wrote Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, in an editorial in The Hill.

Justices once avoided public speeches, believing they should speak through their judicial opinions and avoid the appearance of seeking popular or political following. That changed, and the biggest change came with the late Antonin Scalia and RBG, Turley wrote:

“Both seemed eager to embrace celebrity status with an unprecedented vigor. They routinely appeared before huge audiences and never disappointed in throwing red meat to their respective fan bases. Scalia and Ginsburg repeatedly were criticized for discussing issues coming before the Supreme Court or making highly political statements before ideological groups. Both developed loyal, if not adoring, constituencies on the far right and far left.”

RBG
FILE – In this Nov. 30, 2018 file photo, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated by President Bill Clinton, sits with fellow Supreme Court justices for a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Friday. The Supreme Court says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has undergone surgery to remove two malignant growths from her left lung. It is Ginsburg’s third bout with cancer since joining the court in 1993. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

Ginsburg has apologized for public comments she later regretted, but she continued making them. These are some of the controversial ones:

  • She spoke publicly on the NFL national anthem controversy which raises the same free speech issues as a number of cases working their way through courts, and which could come before the Supreme Court. She denounced players like Kaepernick for their protest while discussing the legal status of such protests.
  • In 2016, she joked she would move to New Zealand if Donald Trump was elected as president. That didn’t go over well.
  • In 2017, she suggested that Hilary Clinton lost the election due to sexism and was widely criticized for “such openly political statements from a sitting justice,” Hasen wrote.
  • In 2018, Ginsburg continued criticizing the election results and the “macho atmosphere” that got Trump elected. She defended Clinton for being treated in a way “no man would have.”

Ginsburg’s comments about Kaepernick lacked racial empathy, Tavis Smiley wrote in a Time editorial on Oct. 14, 2016.

“This isn’t the first time the ‘Notorious RBG’ has gone rogue in her public comments about politics and social justice, even though I have always had a healthy respect and high regard for her unassailable track record of defending the oppressed,” Smiley wrote. Smiley has since been fired from PBS, where he was host and managing editor of “Tavis Smiley,” following a sexual misconduct investigation. Smiley is the author of “50 for Your Future: Lessons From Down the Road.”

“It’s hard for me not to hear (Ginsburg’s) words as racialized,” Smiley wrote. “I hear her remarks as racial in the same way that our national anthem has racial overtones. Our national anthem was written by a guy, Francis Scott Key, who thought of Black folk as the inferior race, owned slaves himself and used his legal skills to assist other slave owners who were trying to recapture their escaped slaves.

San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“Has the time come to replace our national anthem?”

The U.S. has become a giant internment camp for Black folk, Smiley continued — “… parked in shacks, miseducated in schools, stored in cell blocks and eliminated with impunity on a whim.

“It is terrifyingly disturbing that Justice Ginsburg does not see Colin Kaepernick’s protest through this shared historical lens.”

Kaepernick said he was disappointed to hear a Supreme Court justice call a protest against injustices and oppression stupid.

Whites criticize Black protests and try to de-legitimize them by calling them “idiotic, dumb, stupid, things of that nature, so they can sidestep the real issue,” Kaepernick told reporters at the time, CNN reported. “As I was reading that I saw more and more truth how this has been approached by people in power and white people in power in particular.”

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About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubail Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.